Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Challenge: Microhistory

If you’re like me then your primary drive to read is to lose yourself in another world and that typically has me reaching for fiction.  So when one of the categories for the BookRiot Read Harder Challenge was to read a Microhistory I was a little thrown.  First of all, obviously a nonfiction category.  Second, uhm what’s a Microhistory?

Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation of a well-defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, or an individual).

Since I knew this was going to be a stretch for me I immediately began researching Books went to Warpossibilities.  I found a few options that sounded somewhat interesting and then discovered When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning.  Slam Dunk, it’s a book about books.

During World War II boredom was a problem for the troops.  Wars come with significant downtime and pre-internet/Television you could go a little stir crazy.  When the problem first became apparent during training here in the States, Librarians around the country organized a massive book drive to restock Fort libraries.  While it helped, the books were hardback and didn’t travel well.  They also struggled to collect books the soldiers were interested in reading. 

To get books that could easily travel with the soldier, Armed Service Edition were born.

Armed Services Editions (ASEs) were small, compact, paperback books printed by the Council on Books in Wartime for distribution within the American military during World War II.

Working with the major book publishers, two versions of ASE’s were created each designed to fit into a uniform shirt or pant pocket.  By the time the war was over, more than 1200 titles had been printed.  During WW2 Hitler burned 100 million books.  The US printed 120 Million.

Just a few fun facts about the ways these books impacted life post war:  The Great Gatsby was a failure until it was revived as an ASE.  Most of us never would have read it.  Post war soldiers were readers.  They came back very prepared to take advantage of the GI Bill and get college educations.  And third the Mass Market Paperback book market was born, making books more accessible to more people.

This ended up being the third challenge I completed this year, and eight months later I still bring it up if the opportunity arises in conversation (yeah I’m that person). This book is the perfect example of why I’m doing the Read Harder Challenge – I loved it, but never would have read it without the Challenge.


  1. Woohoo! I understood microhistory to be more of a in-depth look at one small thing (I saw examples of the history of salt) rather than something big-picture like the history of a war or the Great Depression or something. I dunno, I found it kind of tricky since academic historians tend to write what in pop history is probably considered a microhistory and to me that is just history. Oh well, thing you ponder over when you have a useless MA in history.

    I wasn't really into either of my choices for this category (one of which I DNFed), but it did get me to finally read a book I have had on my TBR for like 3 years.

    1. My choice is probably a little bit of a stretch for a microhistory, but I pretty sure it counts or at least it was suggested in the Microhistory discussion on GRs and someone else said it counts - I'm going with it.

      Cleaning out old TBR books is always good.