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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Evolution of the ASEs

The Evolution of the ASEs, The Best-Read Army in the World, curated by Molly Manning, exhibited at the Grolier Club

After V-J Day, millions of U.S. troops remained overseas, either awaiting transport home or serving as occupation troops. As the size of the military dwindled, so did the number of ASEs required. To accommodate reduced print runs, the ASEs were switched from their oblong orientation to a vertical format. By 1947, however, the ASEs had run their course. The Council on Books in Wartime dissolved, and the ASEs were discontinued.

Bundle of B-Series. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., 1943. 

Beginning in 1943, 40,000 bundles like this one, wrapped in brown paper and secured with white string, were sent to the Army’s Special Services Supply Division; another 10,000 bundles were shipped to the Navy for distribution. The state of the books in this bundle demonstrate how the ASEs were rushed jobs — books are upside down, some face spine-in and others spine-out, and they are not in numerical order.

A List of the First 774 Books Published for American Armed Forces Overseas. New York: Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., undated. 

Book publishers knew they were making history as they published the ASEs. This commemorative booklet was made midway through the project. In addition to listing the first 774 ASEs to be printed, it also includes testimonials from troops who read them. Effusive, sad, funny, and heart-breaking — the letters from troops conveyed appreciation in many ways, but all agreed that books were a godsend for those at war.

Army Library Service: A Monthly Set of 30 Counsel Books. U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1944. 

This photograph of the D-Series of ASEs compares the wrapped bundle of ASEs with the loose books. The Army’s goal was to print enough ASEs so that one package would serve 150 men in combat, or 50 men in Army hospitals. Those on active duty carried pocket-sized paperbacks everywhere. For those hospitalized, lightweight paperbacks were much easier to hold while reclined in bed. 


“Books in Wartime,” Yank the Army Weekly. New York: October 29, 1943. 

There was no better publication to announce the arrival of the ASEs than Yank. In the October 29, 1943 issue, across from the weekly full-page pinup, is the article “Books in Wartime.” Before listing the first thirty titles, the article explained that packages containing an assortment of paperback books would arrive each month “with the idea that GIs can then swap the different titles among themselves.” 


“As Popular as Pin-Up Girls.” The New York Times Book Review. New York: April 30, 1944. 

Within their first year, the ASEs had become such a sensation that they claimed the front page of the New York Times Book Review. “As Popular as Pin-Up Girls,” the headline declares. The article quotes a serviceman who states the ASEs were “one of the best deals in the Army,” and were “as welcome as a letter from home.” The only complaint: there never seemed to be enough books. “Keep ‘em coming,” one man begged.

Letter from Grace G. Tully to Malcolm Johnson, December 30, 1943. 

As the first ASEs were distributed overseas, publisher Malcolm Johnson (D. Van Nostrand Company) sent an early ASE to President Roosevelt. This letter from Roosevelt’s private secretary, Grace Tully, thanks Johnson for sharing the volume and states that it had “been noted with interest” by the President. Army Chief Librarian Ray Trautman also sent ASEs and overseas editions of magazines to President Roosevelt that are now housed in the F.D.R. Presidential Library.

Frederick G. Lieb. The Detroit Tigers.  Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1260. 

Quincy Howe, ed. The Pocket Book of the War. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1941. 

Beginning in late 1946, the ASEs adopted the orientation and dimensions of Pocket Books paperbacks. Although ASE publishers had debated whether they should simply purchase Pocket Books rather than produce ASEs in an identical size, pricing settled the issue. The “upright” ASEs could be produced at half the cost of a Pocket Books edition. Half the price meant twice the books would be going overseas.

Fred Feldkamp, ed. Mixture for Men. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1253. 

John Jennings. Boston: Cradle of Liberty.  Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1306. 

Many of the features of the oblong-style ASEs remained in the “upright” ASEs. The front covers continued to show a thumbnail image of the hardcover edition, and the back covers included a plot description. Here, the back cover of Boston: Cradle of Liberty summarizes the book’s contents and includes a sales pitch: “This is historical writing, but it reads like an exciting adventure story.”

Letter from General George Marshall to Malcolm Johnson, 1943. 

One of the ASEs’ longtime admirers was the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General George Marshall. During his tenure as Chief of Staff, Marshall took an especial interest in the activities of the Special Services Division, which was charged with providing equipment that would boost soldier morale. When Malcolm Johnson (a publisher and one of the Council’s stalwarts) sent Marshall an ASE to commemorate the program, Marshall sent this reply.

Arthur Loveridge. Tomorrow’s a Holiday. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. No. 1305. 

At the heyday of the ASE program, 40 titles were printed every month. After V-J Day, the number of troops overseas diminished considerably, and the number of ASEs printed each month followed suit. Beginning in 1946, when the upright format was introduced, the number of titles printed each month was reduced to 12. On the inside back cover of every ASE, troops could find the dozen titles printed that month. 


Set of “Hardcover” Armed Services Editions. 

For some troops, ASEs became beloved keepsakes. This set of ASEs were lovingly bound in leather-trimmed hardcovers. Just as troops transitioned from the military to civilian life, the ASEs no longer needed to fit inside of a pocket—they needed to last a lifetime. Each book’s spine bears the initials “M. M.,” which is perhaps the only clue about the identity of the soldier who took such pains to preserve his ASEs.

Ollie Atkins. Chaplain’s Library Somewhere in Africa.” December 18, 1943. 

In North Africa, this outdoor field library served a nearby hospital that treated troops injured in the campaign for Sicily. Without funding or supplies for a building, “Chaplain’s Library” was housed in a tent. Shipping crates doubled as library shelves for the available magazines and books. Entertainment was often limited, and reading materials were especially cherished.

“Photograph of a Soldier Reading in a Flooded Camp. D. of I. Picture, July 1944. 

Troops read ASEs everywhere.  With a box for a headrest, a stretcher for a recliner, even a flooded camp made a good spot for reading. The back of this photograph states, “Torrential rain flooded many of the U.S.A. 6th Army men out of their tents in northern New Guinea and gear had to be salvaged…. Pte. Walter Koch of Ohio disregards the water and relaxes to read a book on his stretcher.”

$1 Checks to the Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., from the U.S. Treasurer, 1947. 

In 1946, with the war over, Army officials informed the Council on Books in Wartime of a lack of funds for ASEs already ordered. After examining its finances, the Council discovered a surplus of nearly $450,000 and drafted a new contract. The Council promised to print ASEs through September 1947 in exchange for $1 from the Army and the Navy. These checks paved the way for another 1,512,000 ASEs (series “NN” through “TT”).

“More Popular Than Pinups.” Undated. 

This photo of a young GI lends credibility to the idea that books were at least as popular as pinup girls. This GI is oblivious to the barrage of pinup posters surrounding him, entirely lost in his book. As the adage goes, “War is 99% waiting.” Few things helped pass empty hours like a good story.

Ernie Pyle. Home Country. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1322. 

The last ASE that the Council on Books in Wartime printed was Ernie Pyle’s Home Country. It paid homage to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was beloved by troops. Pyle lost his life while covering the 77th Infantry Division on Iejima (formerly Anglicized as Ie Shima). A monument was erected for Pyle that stated, “At this spot, the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy, Ernie Pyle.” Pyle had four of his books made into ASEs.

Cpl. R. Impenachio. “Iwo Jima.” Undated. 

In this photograph, U.S. Marines frequent their tent-library on Iwo Jima. As two of the men shop for titles, the third appears to savor the quiet as he writes a letter. The crates of books behind the standing men appear to contain ASEs.

Letter from Richard L. Simon to Max Geffen, January 18, 1946. 

The Council on Books in Wartime met annually at the Hotel Ambassador to review the achievements of the past year and discuss goals for the year ahead. In this letter, Richard Simon, of Simon & Schuster, invites Max Geffen, publisher of Omnibook magazine, to the 1946 luncheon. Guests included Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist and ASE author, Bill Mauldin. The Council itself was a veritable who’s who of the publishing industry. 

The Evolution of the ASEs