Biography and History

The Council on Books in Wartime was a non-profit organization founded by booksellers, publishers, librarians, authors, and others, in the spring of 1942 to channel the use of books as “weapons in the war of ideas,” the Council's motto. Its primary aim was the promotion of books to influence the thinking of the American people regarding the war, to build and maintain the will to win, to expose the true nature of the enemy, to disseminate technical information, to provide relaxation and inspiration, and to clarify war aims and problems of peace.

The Council consisted of a Board of Directors, with Archibald Ogden as Executive Director (1943-1945), and an Executive Committee, with W. W. Norton as Chairman (1943-1945), succeeded by Richard L. Simon, and various other members including John Farrar, S. Spencer Scott, Henry Hoyns, Bennett Cerf, Joseph Lippincott, Clarence Boutell, William Sloan and Datus C. Smith. Various committees worked under the Executive Committee, including the Radio Committee, Forum and Fairs Committee, Motion-Picture Committee, Library Committee, Recommended War Books Committee, Childrens Book Committee, Imperative Book Committee, Promotion and Press Committees, and the Washington Committee. The Council co-operated with the Office of War Information (OWI) and other Government agencies, but was itself a voluntary, unpaid, non-Governmental organization.

The Council attempted to achieve its goals by acting as a clearinghouse for book-related ideas, by being an intermediary between the book-trade industry and government agencies, by offering advice to publishers, and by handling all forms of public relations including distribution of reading lists and pamphlets, lectures, radio programs, newsreels, and book promotion and publication.

Two subsidiary organizations sprang from the Council on Books in Wartime, the Armed Services Editions (ASE) and Overseas Editions, Inc. (OEI). Armed Services Editions founded in February 1943 sought to alleviate the shortage of reading matter for men in the Services by publishing inexpensive paperbound books in pocket size to sell to the United States Government, at cost, and then distributing these to servicemen overseas. The books were primarily current publications, recreational in nature, including popular novels, some classics, books on the war, other non-fiction, humor and anthologies. In 1944 ASE incorporated as Editions for the Armed Services, Inc. to protect its funds in the event of lawsuits. Personnel and management however, remained the same.

ASE selected books to be reprinted from publishers' lists through a committee including John Farrar, Jennie Flexner, Mark Van Doren and Amy Loveman. These selections were subsequently approved for publication by representatives from the Army (Ray L. Trautman), and the Navy (Isabel Du Bois). Philip Van Doren Stern was manager of the ASE. From its beginning in the fall of 1943 to its post-war end in the fall of 1947 ASE printed 1,324 titles and delivered 122,951,031 books to the U. S. Government.

Overseas Editions, Inc. intended to publish translations of American books to distribute to civilians in overseas countries liberated by Allied troops in order to inform the people of Europe about America, democracy, and current events. Its management committee members were Stanley Rinehart, William Sloane and Marshall A. Best, who served under the direction of Archibald Ogden. The choice of books for OEI was made by the Office of War Information and approved by the same advisory committee serving the ASE. The books were printed in pocket book format and sold at prevailing retail prices. Between February and November, 1945 OEI published 72 titles (22 in English, 22 in French, 23 in German, and 5 in Italian) and shipped 3,636,074 volumes overseas.

With the end of the war the Council on Books in Wartime ceased active operations on Jan. 31, 1946, but maintained its corporate entities to deal with the dispersal of remaining funds and the safekeeping of records.

Source: From the finding aid for MC038

  • William M. Sloane Papers. 1931-1979 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0236

    Consists primarily of correspondence of William M. Sloane during his publishing and editorial career, which is documented in several publishing files. These include papers of the Association of American University Presses when Sloane served as vice-president and president (1966, 1969-70); the Council on Books in Wartime; the Visiting Committee of American Book Publishers; and the publishing houses of Henry Holt and Company (1938-46) and William Sloane Associates (1946-52).

  • Publishers' Weekly Collection. 1933-1946 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0609

    Consists of correspondence and printed matter of Publishers' Weekly, the periodical published by the R. R. Bowker Company.

  • Council on Books in Wartime Records. 1942-1947 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC038

    The Council on Books in Wartime Records (1942-1947), an organization of publishers and other literary professionals focusing on the promotion of books and reading to further the war effort, consists of records from the preliminary foundation meetings at Times Hall, New York, through the cessation of formal operations in 1946. The major activities of the organization were focused on its two subsidiary publishing ventures, the Armed Services Editions (1943-1947) and the Overseas Editions, Inc. (1944-1945). The Records consist primarily of correspondence of council members, publishers, printers, booksellers, librarians, and the general public. Also present are meeting minutes, press releases, bulletins, radio scripts, contracts, financial records, letters from servicemen, a few photographs of authors and council members, newspaper clippings, and posters. At its last annual meeting in January 1946 the Council's Board of Directors determined that at the end of operations "such records of the Council as merit preservation shall be deposited in an appropriate public institution such as Princeton University Library." The Records were subsequently acquired by Princeton University Library and then librarian Julian P. Boyd.

  • Council on Books in Wartime Records. 1942-1947 (inclusive).

    Call Number: MC038

    The Council on Books in Wartime Records (1942-1947), an organization of publishers and other literary professionals focusing on the promotion of books and reading to further the war effort, consists of records from the preliminary foundation meetings at Times Hall, New York, through the cessation of formal operations in 1946. The major activities of the organization were focused on its two subsidiary publishing ventures, the Armed Services Editions (1943-1947) and the Overseas Editions, Inc. (1944-1945). The Records consist primarily of correspondence of council members, publishers, printers, booksellers, librarians, and the general public. Also present are meeting minutes, press releases, bulletins, radio scripts, contracts, financial records, letters from servicemen, a few photographs of authors and council members, newspaper clippings, and posters. At its last annual meeting in January 1946 the Council's Board of Directors determined that at the end of operations "such records of the Council as merit preservation shall be deposited in an appropriate public institution such as Princeton University Library." The Records were subsequently acquired by Princeton University Library and then librarian Julian P. Boyd.