- WW I & Essays on Book History
Just as the future of the book, and especially of the scholarly book, as a physical as opposed to a digital object, has come into question because of the cost of publishing with ink and paper to a small audience, the field of book history is flourishing. The high price of this volume is a testimony to the difficulties facing scholarly book publishers today, while its contents demonstrate the difficulties faced by publishers—both large and small, both professional and amateur—during World War I.
Hammond and Towheed provide a useful introduction to the volume, stressing some new, broader ways of looking at World War I that have been developed by scholars of the book over the past few years, and the benefits to be gained by expanding our purview far beyond the often-taught major authors and their works. The contributors, often using numerical tables to do so, unveil a good deal of new information from publishers' archives and other sources and succeed in giving us new perspectives on an often-discussed war.
The four sections of the volume, each containing three essays, cover some major aspects of publishing, reading, and writing during the war. In the first section, "Profit and Patriotism," in an essay entitled "For Country, Conscience and Commerce," Jane Potter discusses the economics [End Page 228] of wartime publishing and the ways in which publishers reconciled their own personal nuanced views about the war with the need to publish government pro-war propaganda. In the second essay, Stephen Colclough analyzes the way in which W. H. Smith & Son, the major book and newspaper retailer, helped the government's propaganda effort by distributing National War Aims propaganda in every possible venue. Grace Brokington's concluding essay in this section discusses the ways in which pacifists—and Bloomsbury art critic Roger Fry in particular—were able to make their work available to a fairly wide audience despite the censorship laws and opposition of the government.
Santanu Das's essay, the first in the "Reading and National Consciousness" section, examines Indian attitudes toward the war by means of two contemporary journals, one cleverly entitled Indian Ink and the other the Indian Review War Book. As Das points out, the Indian viewpoint is very often neglected despite the fact that India contributed more than a million men to England's struggle. He reveals the complexity of the Indian perspective on the war: according to the evidence in these journals, the educated, upper-middle-class people in India who were at the forefront of the nationalist movement against the British also, surprisingly, largely supported Britain's war effort against Germany. Rainer Pöppinghege's essay in this section, "The Battle of the Books: Supplying Prisoners of War," contains many fascinating facts. For instance, combatant governments allowed each other to provide funds to support libraries in their respective prisoner-of-war camps. Less surprisingly, we also learn that these governments running prisoner of war camps supplied their own propaganda to the prisoners in their camps in order to try to recruit them to betray their own governments. English prisoners in German camps, for instance, were given the Continental Times, a pro-German propaganda newspaper. Also interesting is the fact that the authorities running all of the combatant prisoner of war camps were happy rather than displeased when prisoners produced their own camp newsletters, because such activities, it was thought, kept the prisoners calm and could easily be censored. Judging just from the reading and writing going on among the eight million prisoners who passed through prisoner of war camps in all combatant countries, Pöppinghege concludes that the war was a "communicative event of extraordinary quantity and quality." The final essay in this second section is by Amanda Laugesen, who explores the reading tastes of Australian soldiers: according to her, their favorites, like those of the British soldiers, seem to have included not only Kipling, Dickens, [End Page 229] Conan Doyle, and John Buchan among others, but also...