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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Smaller, The Better

The Smaller the Better, The Best-Read Army in the World, curated by Molly Manning, exhibited at the Grolier Club

The ASEs inspired a worldwide phenomenon in publishing miniature reading material. In response to wartime paper rationing and the destruction of publishing facilities across Europe, ASE-like books for civilians were produced in a number of countries. Meanwhile, the Army could not resist publishing a variety of pocket-sized materials. Not only did small-sized booklets take up less shipping space, but the War Department hoped troops would be more inclined to read these missives if they were in troops’ favorite format.

Yank the Army Weekly (British Edition). London: September 17, 1944. 

The Army strove to provide troops information about the nations and cities where they would be stationed. A plethora of country guides and language manuals were distributed by the War Department. These booklets were so ubiquitous that even the September 1944 cover of YANK shows a soldier reading a “Guidebook to Paris.”

Chinese Phrase Book. Washington, D.C.: War Department, 1943. 

Pocket Guide to China. Washington, D.C.: War Department, undated. 

North African Arabic Language Guide. Washington, D.C.: War Department, 1943.  

Pocket Guide to North Africa. Washington, D.C.: War Department, undated. 

The War Department published innumerable pocket-sized books to help troops acclimate to the nations where they were deployed. To this end, country guides and language guides were printed for dozens of locales and dialects. Usually, troops were not told their destination until after they had embarked. Accordingly, these guides were typically distributed on troop transports.

A Pocket Guide to India. Washington, D.C.: Special Service Division, undated. 

A Pocket Guide to Alaska. Washington, D.C.: Special Service Division, undated. 

A Short Guide to Great Britain. Washington, D.C.: War Department, undated. 

Pocket Guide to Panama. Washington, D.C.: War & Navy Departments, 1943. 

A Short Guide to Syria. Washington, D.C.: War & Navy Departments, undated. 

Pocket Guide to Egypt. Washington, D.C.: War & Navy Departments, undated. 

This selection of guidebooks provides a glimpse of the breadth of booklets the U.S. military created to educate troops on the culture, customs, and history of the nations they visited.

The Pocket Guide for the U.S. Army Song Leader. Washington, D.C.: War Department, undated. 

Occupation of Enemy Territory: Italy. Washington, D.C.: War & Navy Departments, undated. 

The U.S. military did not only print guidebooks and language aids in this pocket-sized format. From song books to guides on behavioral requirements when in “enemy territory,” this handy format became the preferred design for informational military booklets.


The New Testament. An American Translation. Edgar J. Goodspeed, transl. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1923.  

Readings from the Holy Scriptures for Jewish Soldiers and Sailors. New York: National Jewish Welfare Board, 1942. 

New Testament Psalms. Dated January 9, 1942.   

Most religious texts were pocket-sized and distributed gratis. During World Wars I and II, the National Jewish Welfare Board, YMCA, and USO offered their assistance in distributing reading materials (religious texts and otherwise) to troops—including the displayed volumes. Included in the World War II-era texts is a 1941 statement by President Roosevelt recommending that troops read the Bible.

May this keep you safe from harm. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, undated. 

Marketed as a “heart-shield,” this Bible is housed in a gold-plated steel cover that was supposed to be kept in a uniform breast pocket. The implicit understanding was that it would shield the reader’s heart from a bullet or piece of shrapnel. This Bible, with its well-worn cover and broken binding, appears to have been carried through the war.

How About Your Education? Washington, D.C.: War Department, April 1945. 

As the tide of war shifted and victory loomed in Europe, the War Department began to publicize the GI Bill and its many offerings. Here, a War Department pamphlet advertises the GI Bill’s promise of an education on the Government’s dime. Although Congress believed few troops would be interested in going to college, the ASEs proved to troops that they enjoyed doing something as scholarly as reading and studying. Millions of veterans returned to school.

Shall I Go Back to School? Washington, D.C.: War Department, June 1945. 

Jo Allen. The Big Squeeze: Crisis on the Campus. New York: American Youth for Democracy, 1946. 

Shall I Go Back to School was an informational booklet designed for group discussion or to publicize the GI Bill’s education benefit over Armed Forces Radio Service. It may have been a little too successful. The Big Squeeze discusses the challenges of accommodating the incredible influx of GI-students. Between 1946 and 1947, college enrollment grew from approximately two to three million students (and this number continued to rise thereafter).

Soldier Shows Script Folio No. 4. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1954. 

Just as the ASEs shifted formats beginning in 1946, the “Soldier Shows” books followed suit. This edition, published on the heels of the Korean War, has a vertical format rather than the 1945 scripts’ oblong shape. This particular book is unique because it is stamped by the “Hourglass Service Club,” of Camp Kasey, South Korea. There is also a blue and white sticker revealing it was distributed by the Army’s Special Services Division.

“G.I. One Act Plays.” New York: Street & Smith Publications, Inc., 1945. 

“Chillers & Thrillers.” New York: Street & Smith Publications, Inc., 1945. 

The Special Services Division of the Army distributed various recreational “equipment” to boost morale—including scripts (and costumes) for “Soldier Shows.” The Street & Smith Publications company, which printed ASEs, was also asked to publish the “At Ease” theatrical library, consisting of 18 volumes of scripts. Like the ASEs, the interior pages have dual columns of text for easy reading, and each volume contains a list of other titles in the series.

Alfred Kazin. On Native Grounds. New York: Overseas Editions, Inc., undated. 

In 1944, the Office of War Information collaborated with the Council on Books in Wartime to print books for nations that had been occupied by Germany. For years, these nations were constrained by book bans, library purges, and a dearth of new books. Although initial plans called for tens of millions of “Overseas Editions,” the project was mired in delay. In the end, only 3.6 million “Overseas Editions” were printed in 72 titles.

Louis Golding. Store of Ladies. London: Bear, Hudson Ltd., 1946. 

Dale Collins. Vulnerable. London: Bear, Hudson, Ltd., 1946. 

Edgar Allan Poe. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. London: Bear, Hudson, Ltd., 1946. 

In England, the “Bear Pocket Book” copied the ASE format to offer a low-cost paperback using a minimum of rationed paper. Several titles were printed in this series, all of which borrow elements from the ASEs, including a thumbnail image of a book on the front cover, dual columns of text on the interior pages, and a banner across the bottom of each book proudly publicizing that, despite the small size, these were “complete novels.”

Sidney J. Coe. Down Murder Lane. London: W. H. Allen, 1945. 

In England, where the publishing industry was badly bombed during the Blitz, it became necessary to print smaller books with rationed paper. The ASE format served as inspiration for several publishers, including the W. H. Allen Company. In addition to copying the ASEs’ oblong shape, the “Allen Super-Hurricane” also had a thumbnail image of the hardcover edition and a banner along the bottom stating, “This is the Full-Length Book!”

D.H. Lawrence. La Vergine E Lo Zingaro. Milan: Arndoldo Mondadori Editore, undated. 

It was not only America’s allies who found inspiration in the pocket-sized format of the ASEs. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore’s paperback edition bears a striking resemblance to an ASE—both have horizontal banners across the bottom of their front covers (this one reads “I libri della ricostruzione”—the books of reconstruction), circles in the left-hand corners, dual columns of text on the interior pages, and lists of other titles on the inside back covers.

Oscar Wilde. The Canterville Ghost. Berlin: Franz Cornelsen Verlag, 1948. 

Franz Cornelsen founded a publishing company in Berlin in 1948 to reintroduce the works of English-speaking authors that had been prohibited while Germany was under Nazi rule. Cornelsen’s books were published in English and contained a glossary so that readers could improve their knowledge of the English language. Clearly inspired by the ASEs, The Canterville Ghost is the same size as a small ASE, and the interior pages have two columns of text.

Railsplitters. Paris: Curial-Archereau, undated. 

Lightning: The Story of the 78th Infantry Division. Paris: Curial-Archereau, undated. 

Achtung Jabos! The Story of the IX TAC. Paris: Curial-Archereau, undated. 

To build morale as troops fought the German Army in Europe, the Stars and Stripes newspaper issued these miniature booklets in collaboration with the Army’s Information and Education Division. Each booklet recounts the storied history and achievements of a particular division, and the last page has space for “autographs” by members of “the team.”

For the New Rainbow Soldiers, 42nd Inf. Div. 1943. 

Some divisions printed booklets to welcome new soldiers to their ranks. The 42nd “Rainbow” Division produced this orientation pamphlet that provided a spirited account of the division’s role in World War I, along with information on the amenities available at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, where the division went through basic training. The booklet includes the division’s official marching song and prayer.

Price List. Camp Lee, VA: 1944. 

Advancing through the ranks required studying and strong performances on exams during training. This 16-page booklet for the book store at Camp Lee lists dozens of field manuals, technical manuals, guides, and miscellaneous books and study materials available for purchase at the camp’s book store.

Going Back to Civilian Life. Washington, D.C.: War & Navy Departments, August 1945. 

After V-J Day, millions of Americans prepared for the one thing they had dreamt of since first donning a uniform: their return to civilian life. For many, the adjustment could be difficult, and this booklet detailed what men could expect, what resources were available to them, and the various provisions of the GI Bill they could utilize. Knowing how popular ASEs were, the military published this essential information in this favored format.