BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Colonel Ray L. Trautman was the U.S. Army Library Service director during the Second World War. In 1942, inspired by his own love of reading, Colonel Trautman initiated the biggest book giveaway ever -- 123 million Armed Services Editions --as the books were known - including 1322 titles that were published between 1943 and 1947 and sent to American troops all over the world. On the brink, perhaps, of another war author and archivist Andrew Carroll has taken up Colonel Trautman's mantle and revived the book program. Andrew, welcome to the show!
ANDREW CARROLL: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: So how did you come to get involved in such a monumental undertaking?
ANDREW CARROLL: I collect the old Armed Services Editions, or ASE's as they're known. I have about 500 of 'em, and I've always wanted to bring these back, and it's not because of the war that's been going on or that may be coming, and this was all planned before 9/11; it just took us a while to get the funding and to get the books organized and the publishers behind it. The first book we did is a book that I edited called War Letters, and we have three other titles now that are going out -- Shakespeare's Henry V, Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and a book that was also a New York Times best seller called Medal of Honor by Allen Mikaelian, and we chose those titles because we thought as we're initiating this project we want books that from the beginning may have some appeal to the military, but we are certainly going to do other titles. We want to do books of humor. We want to do famous plays. We want to do sports anthologies, poetry anthologies, just the way they did back in the 1940s.
BOB GARFIELD: So what's the goal here?
ANDREW CARROLL:The great thing about the 1940s project was the, the impact it had. You had a whole generation coming back with a love for reading -- in many ways -- I won't say it inspired the paperback boom, because paperbacks had of course been around before that, but it really got millions of young men and women reading those dime store paperbacks and falling in love with some of the classics. It would be great to see that again. We want to also really send them a tangible almost thanks for what they do over there -- let them know that they're not forgotten - that we are thinking of them back here in the States. So there is that element.
BOB GARFIELD:Let me just ask you just one, one little thing. Is-- anyone making money off of this? Where, where do the books come from? Is there a profit motive in this for any participant?
ANDREW CARROLL: It's a very good question -- no. And we specifically are doing this with private funding. They, they used government funding before. We have a major corporation that provided us with a donation. Everyone who's working on this project does so on a volunteer basis, and it's really a group of people who simply love books -- that's really the spirit and the gist of the project.
BOB GARFIELD:I want to get back to the list of the first four titles that the troops will be given. Once again, they're Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present by Allen Mikaelian; Henry V by Shakespeare; The Art of War by Sun Tzu and War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars by-- by you! Now I'm going to read you a letter from [LAUGHS] the New York Times and I just want to get your reaction to it: "I enjoy the nostalgia of it all -- those G.I.'s poring over Hemingway in their foxholes during World War II, but I can't help wondering over the coincidence of the first four editions in the new series -- all paeans to the warrior's life. Is this what people want to read while separated from loved ones, risking life and limb from [sic] their country?" Is that what our troops want to read?
ANDREW CARROLL: Absolutely. These are the books that troops requested, and they also talked about Tom Clancy and Stephen King and John Grisham and, and Harry Potter and all sorts of different titles. The only thing I take issue with is the notion that these first four titles are somehow celebrating the, the warrior life. What's great about Henry V is in fact it's a very nuanced look at warfare where Shakespeare takes, as he often does, many different perspectives. People f-- they look at the title of Sun Tzu -The Art of War - and think it's all about sort of the hurrah of battle when in fact the most famous line from the book is: The best way to win is not to fight. So I think even though the titles may appear to suggest that this is sort of a pro-war effort or however it may be presented, that's really not the case, and so we want books that encourage people to think critically about war and about related issues. But again, not all the titles from here on out will be war-related. We want to have a full range of topics and things and, and as I said, I want to do a lot of humor just to give them a bit of a diversion while they're over there.
BOB GARFIELD:Is there any title or category of literature that you yourself deem inappropriate and would never nominate for distribution this way?
ANDREW CARROLL: We certainly wouldn't want anything that was religiously offensive. We would probably stay away from erotica. That would be my guess; and anything that again is just too political.
BOB GARFIELD: So Henry James, yes; Henry Miller and Henry Kissinger, no.
ANDREW CARROLL: Exactly.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Andrew Carroll, thank you very much.
ANDREW CARROLL: Thank you. I appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD: Andrew Carroll is the founder of The Legacy Project and author of War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars. [MUSIC]