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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Armed Services Editions

Armed Services Edition, The Best-Read Army in the World, curated by Molly Manning, exhibited at the Grolier Club

As combat troops needed the smallest reading materials possible, books were forced to undergo a transformation. To replace hardcover books that were the norm in the early 1940s, Army Chief Librarian Raymond Trautman invented a miniature paperback book from a blank Omnibook magazine cut in half. The Armed Services Edition (ASE) was born. Over 123 million pocket-sized paperbacks were distributed to troops during World War II. Inside and out, the ASEs were unique; they had two columns of text, a horizontal format, and staples for binding.

Photograph of Col. Raymond L. Trautman, undated. 

From 1940 to 1945, the Army’s Chief Librarian was Raymond L. Trautman, who spearheaded the redesign of traditional periodicals and books to create portable reading materials for troops. Trautman’s experiments led to the creation of the pocket-sized Armed Services Editions. In the background, notice the decorations proudly on display in Trautman’s office—Armed Services Editions, overseas editions of magazines, and an inscribed Dave Breger cartoon (on display in this case).

Dave Breger. “Gee, I Wish I Had a Library Card.” Original Cartoon, 1945. 

By 1945, so ubiquitous were book-reading soldiers that even cartoons depicted them.  Dave Breger, a Stars and Stripes contributor, illustrated this scene of a soldier discovering a trove of books. In the caption, a soldier says, “Gee, I wish I had a library card—some swell books here!” Breger gave the original illustration to Chief Librarian Ray Trautman.  Without Trautman, there may not have been a book-reading Army to capture in a cartoon.

Army Library Service Comparison of 30 Council Books with Original Editions. U.S. Army Signal Corps, undated. 

Between the paperback cover, newsprint-thin paper, two-column format, and elimination of blank pages, the ASEs were the most compact books that publishers could produce. When measured against their hardcover counterparts, there was no question that the ASEs were slimmer, smaller, and lighter.

Eagle Carrying Books Logos, undated. 

In 1942, American book publishers created an organization, the Council on Books in Wartime. They initially explored how books could play a role in fighting World War II.  They adopted the slogan “books are weapons in the war of ideas,” and focused most of their early efforts on the home front. Publishers commissioned logos for their organization. Several were created; all featured eagles and books. 


“Organizational Chart Special Service, Second Air Force,” undated. 

This organizational chart exhibits the sheer variety of recreational activities available to troops. Athletics, movies, theatricals, music, correspondence courses, newspapers, college extension courses—troops had an embarrassment of options, and yet libraries remained extremely popular. As civilians, most read magazines and continued to do so in uniform. As soldiers, books helped fill the long hours between the end of each day’s training and lights out.

H. G. Wells. The War of the Worlds. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1091.

Francis Wallace. Kid Galahad. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1092.

Sgt. Leonard Sansone. The Wolf. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1116.

Christopher Isherwood. Prater Violet. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1115.

The ASEs were printed “two-up,” with two books printed per page; once assembled, the books were divided into two. Two-up printing enabled ASEs to be reproduced on pulp magazine presses. The format required publishers to painstakingly match books of comparable page count to be printed together. Blank pages were avoided because of paper rationing.

Lloyd C. Douglas. The Robe. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. D-118. 

Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. F-174. 

Because the ASEs were smaller than any book troops had ever encountered, there was some confusion about whether they were complete books. Publishers wished to be transparent about any editing. Thus, the bottom of every front cover of abridged titles stated, “Condensed for Wartime Reading” (including The Robe). But most banners proclaimed, “This is the Complete Book—Not a Digest” (including Life on the Mississippi).

C. S. Forester. Flying Colours. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. F-157.

Willard Robertson. Moon Tide. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 758.

The ASEs were typically stapled together, and a water-resistant glue binding was applied to attach the cover. However, because almost a dozen printing houses were used to print the ASEs, there were some variations. For example, the cover of Moon Tide is not stapled to the interior pages of the book; it is glued. On the other hand, Flying Colours’s front cover is stapled to the rest of the book.

“Army Library Service RB Library.” U.S. Army Signal Corps, undated.

For stationary troops, the Army purchased sets of hardcover books for shipment to bases around the world. Pictured is the “RB Library,” which consisted of 100 reference books and 400 fiction and non-fiction books. These books aimed to appeal to a young, male audience. For easy storage, the Army Library Service shipped the RB Library in shelved crates that converted into bookcases (pictured).

Roderick Peattie. Look at the Frontiers. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 661. 

Corporal Thomas R. St. George. c/o Postmaster. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. H-211. 

In designing the ASEs, book publishers wanted to avoid one pitfall that plagued miniature troop magazines: font size. By printing text in two columns, 12 percent more text fit on each page without sacrificing font size. In addition, shorter columns of text were easier to read in poor lighting. Interior illustrations were also included in ASEs and were sized to remain legible and effective. 


Constance Rourke. Davy Crockett.  Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. J-281. 

Each month, a new “series” of ASEs was distributed, and the inside back cover of every ASE advertised that month’s titles. To help troops select a book, a short description of a book’s plot was included on the back cover, and a thumbnail image of the hardcover edition was on the front cover. In the beginning, 50,000 copies of 30 titles were printed monthly; these numbers grew to 155,000 copies of 40 titles.

Ernie Pyle. Brave Men. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. P-30. 

Capt. Harry C. Butcher. My Three Years with Eisenhower. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1102. 

Publishers ultimately printed two sizes of ASEs, both designed to fit inside uniform pockets. In addition, a strict page count was enforced. The larger ASE, measuring 6.5 inches by 4.5 inches, could not be longer than 512 pages or it would not fit a hip pocket.  The smaller ASE, measuring 5.5 inches by 4 inches, had to be under 384 pages to fit a breast pocket. Both Brave Men and My Three Years with Eisenhower were too long, and had to be “condensed,” as the bottom of their front covers note.

Blank Booklet (Prototype for “Omnibook Abridged Editions”), undated. 

Omnibook (Overseas Edition). New York: Omnibook, Inc., February 1945. 

To design troop-friendly formats, Army Chief Librarian Ray Trautman experimented with Omnibook magazines. Omnibook was a small-sized periodical that published abridged books. Why not publish these abridgements individually, and even smaller? Here, a blank Omnibook was cut in half, and inside Trautman penciled, “This book, originally published in abridged form in Omnibook, the book magazine, is reprinted in this special edition for the Armed forces ….” With this prototype, Trautman launched the Armed Services Editions.

George Lowther. The Adventures of Superman. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 656.  

When selecting books that would appeal to young men fighting a war against fascism, Random House could not resist its own The Adventures of Superman. It was selected for ASE publication in 1945, and its distribution happened to coincide with V-E Day. The ASE was not only a sensation with troops in World War II; today, it continues to be a sought-after volume especially amongst Superman collectors.

Eric Knight. Lassie Come-Home. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. F-156. 

Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. D-110.  

Classic stories of American life were popular ASEs. The tale of Lassie resonated with troops—they related to that loyal collie, who was removed from home and spent years trying to return to her family. As the back cover of Twain’s ASE states, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer “are literary friends that most of us make in childhood and keep for a lifetime.” Both books brought comfort to homesick troops.

Alan H. Brodrick. North Africa. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. C-61. 

John F. Embree. The Japanese Nation. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 1040. 

Konrad Heiden. Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. M-30.  

The Council on Books in Wartime published a handful of ASEs to educate troops about the nations involved in the war. North Africa and The Japanese Nation study the social, economic, and cultural traditions of North Africa and Japan. Der Fuehrer, on the other hand, is a biography of Adolf Hitler that attempts to provide “an understanding of the history that is being created before our eyes.”

Soldier Art. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 739. 

Sgt. George Baker. The Sad Sack. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 719. 

If there were an ASE equivalent of a coffee table art book, it would be Soldier Art. In 1944, troops were encouraged to enter the National Army Arts Contest. Hundreds of submissions were displayed at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C.—and in this ASE. Soldier Art is the only ASE that has any interior pages printed in full color. The Sad Sack, in contrast, contains only black-and-white cartoons.

Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. M-16. 

Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Return of Tarzan. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. O-22. 

Jack London. White Fang. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 672.  

Even men who eschewed books as civilians could not resist gripping tales of adventure to escape their lives at war.  Troops who were moviegoers recognized the familiar name of Tarzan. Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan were both published as ASEs and enabled some troops to discover the joy of reading. Jack London was famous for his tales of adventure, and his seven ASEs were widely read across the military.

Irwin T. Marsh & Edward Ehre, eds. Best Sports Stories of 1944. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 913. 

Frank Graham. McGraw of the Giants. Editions for the Armed Services, Inc., No. 846.  

Sports fans received a steady diet of ASEs about athletes and their favorite teams. Aside from providing troops a connection to a beloved pastime, these books were a source of encouragement to persevere. In reading about the challenges overcome by famous players, like John McGraw, troops gained a sense of fortitude as they faced their own challenges at war. 

Armed Services Editions