When Books Went to War Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

These discussion questions are designed to help you guide your students through a class discussion as they explore their thoughts and feelings about Molly Guptill Manning's 'When Books Went to War'.

When Books Went to War

When Books Went to War is a 2014 work of historical nonfiction by author Molly Guptill Manning that explores the forgotten history of massive efforts made to bring lightweight paperback books to the hands of American soldiers in World War II. This engaging take on history can help students explore the human side of war and the importance that literature has in a free society. The following questions can help guide your students through a class discussion as they examine their reactions to this book.

Questions about Content and Argument

  • In one sentence, can you explain what When Books Went to War is about? How would you describe this book to a friend?
  • How does this book begin? Why do you think the author started the book in this way? How does this establish the major ideas of the book?
  • How does Manning establish what books represented to both the United States and Nazi Germany prior to the start of the war? How is this used to create a contrast between these societies and governments? How were American ideas about books in the 1930s and early 1940s similar and different to our ideas about books today? Why did so many people see books and recreational reading as something more exclusive to the wealthy?
  • How did the world become aware of Nazi book-burning programs? How did people respond? What did you think about these responses? How did this start the campaign to bring books to American soldiers?
  • As US soldiers were fighting in the war, what did books represent in both symbolic and practical terms? What did you think was the best illustration of each of these? What anecdotes did the author provide that showed how people felt about these books?
  • How did publishers, librarians, and the government all work together to bring books to soldiers? What does this show us about American society at this time? Do businesses and government always get along in American history? Why do you think there seemed to be so much popular support and cooperation during World War II?
  • According to Manning, how did this book program impact American culture? How did it change American ideas about reading? How did it impact the publishing industry? How did it establish a new wave of classics and save other books from obscurity?

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