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Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point Paperback – 30 Sep 2008

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; Reprint edition (30 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312427824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312427825
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,668,119 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Like Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran", Elizabeth D. Samet's "Soldier's Heart" is an illuminating look at the use of literature by a group of young people in an uncommon predicament. As a civilian professor at West Point, Samet has spent ten years teaching Shakespeare's sonnets and Emerson's essays to future warriors destined for the uncertain moral and physical terrain of Iraq. Her experience offers insight into the value of literature and the nature of soldiering, but most of all it offers a glimpse into the hidden mysteries of the human heart." --Geraldine Brooks, author of "March" and "Years of Wonder"
"Not since John Gardner's "On Moral Fiction" has the intersection of literature and morality been so powerfully examined, but in "Soldier's Heart" the examination occurs in the conscience of a teacher whose students are en route to war. This is a thoughtful, moving, but also troubling book--exactly as it should be."
--James Carroll, author of "House of War" and "An American Requiem"

"Like Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran," Elizabeth D. Samet's "Soldier's Heart" is an illuminating look at the use of literature by a group of young people in an uncommon predicament. As a civilian professor at West Point, Samet has spent ten years teaching Shakespeare's sonnets and Emerson's essays to future warriors destined for the uncertain moral and physical terrain of Iraq. Her experience offers insight into the value of literature and the nature of soldiering, but most of all it offers a glimpse into the hidden mysteries of the human heart." --Geraldine Brooks, author of "March" and "Years of Wonder"
"Not since John Gardner's "On Moral Fiction" has the intersection of literature and morality been so powerfully examined, but in "Soldier's Heart" the examination occurs in the conscience of a teacher whose students are en route to war. This is a thoughtful, moving, but also troubling book--exactly as it should be."
--James Carroll, author of "House of War" and "An American Requiem"

"An exhilarating read."--"The Washington Post Book World"

"Fascinating . . . I know of no other new book that's a better choice for any reading group that loves to debate literature and politics."--"USA Today"

"It's reassuring just to think that the hearts and minds of young soldiers are in [Samet's] hands."--"The Christian Science Monitor"

"A thoughtful, attentive, stereotype-breaking book about [Samet's] ten years as a civilian teacher of literature at the Military Academy."--Robert Pinsky, "The New York Times
""Absolutely fascinating. Never has Tolstoy or Homer seemed more relevant."--Bob Minzesheimer, "USA Today
""Like Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran, "Elizabeth D. Samet's "Soldier's Heart" is an illuminating look at the use of literature by a group of young people in an uncommon predicament."--Geraldine Brooks, author of" March "and" Year of Wonders
""Strong, deeply articulate . . . I hope her work finds its way to more than a few Capitol Hill nightstands."--Alexander C. Kafka, "Chicago Tribune" "An exhilarating read. It seats you in the classroom of a feisty professor . . . elbow-to-elbow with an elite crop of students whose intelligence and imagination match their courage."--John Beckman, "The Washington Post Book World" "[Samet] make[s] a compelling case that the values embodied in the liberal arts can do much to steer [soldier's] to more thoughtful deliberations. . . . It's reassuring just to think that the hearts and minds of young soldier's are in such hands."--Marjorie Kehe, "The Christian Science Monitor"

A thoughtful, attentive, stereotype-breaking book about [Samet's] ten years as a civilian teacher of literature at the Military Academy. "Robert Pinsky, The New York Times"

Absolutely fascinating. Never has Tolstoy or Homer seemed more relevant. "Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today"

Like Azar Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran, "Elizabeth D. Samet's "Soldier's Heart" is an illuminating look at the use of literature by a group of young people in an uncommon predicament. "Geraldine Brooks, author of March and Year of Wonders"

Strong, deeply articulate . . . I hope her work finds its way to more than a few Capitol Hill nightstands. "Alexander C. Kafka, Chicago Tribune"

An exhilarating read. It seats you in the classroom of a feisty professor . . . elbow-to-elbow with an elite crop of students whose intelligence and imagination match their courage. "John Beckman, The Washington Post Book World"

[Samet] make[s] a compelling case that the values embodied in the liberal arts can do much to steer [soldier's] to more thoughtful deliberations. . . . It's reassuring just to think that the hearts and minds of young soldier's are in such hands. "Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor""

About the Author

Elizabeth D. Samet is the author of "Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of ""Consent in America, 1776 1898." She has been an English professor at West Point for ten years."

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Insightful book with a fresh perspective. I have bought several copies as gifts for friends. Quick and perfect delivery.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8e39ced0) out of 5 stars 42 reviews
80 of 81 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e145f90) out of 5 stars An Exceptional Book 25 Oct. 2007
By Richard B. Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Samet is a civilian professor of English at West Point. The increase in the number of civilians teaching there was one of the innovations of Fletcher Lamkin, during his term as the WP dean of the academic board. When I taught there, as a reserve officer, in 1967-9 there was only one civilian instructor in English, a woman who taught the plastic arts. Dr. Samet is a Yale Ph.D. and her (to some, curious) career choice of a position at West Point is one of the many stories which constitute this book.

She is able to accomplish several things here. She provides a vivid sense of the WP ethos, along with the `newer' ethos which includes women cadets, civilian professors, majors, minors, and a rich array of electives. She provides sketches and portraits of a number of her students and a number of her military colleagues. She reports on their communications with her as they move on in their careers, to and from war zones and, for some, to civilian life. The book is a mini-memoir and mini-autobiography. Most of all it is a long reflection on the relationship between literature and life, literature and the military, literature and war.

What is most impressive about the book is the fact that it is so accessible. Its materials are complex but they are presented in a manner that is instructive, moving and compelling. This is a book for everyone interested in literature, for everyone interested in soldiers and for everyone interested in West Point. I recommend it highly.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e079d14) out of 5 stars Short book with a big impact 19 Nov. 2007
By David Hale - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A few weeks ago this author was on my local NPR station and I was intrigued by the idea of her book and then I got out of my car and walked into a book store and there it was on the new arrivals pile. I'm not sure if I would have noticed it if not for the story on the radio but I'm glad I did. As a former Army officer who has dealt with some of the issues in this book I was pulled in by her stories of teaching at West Point, an institution I did not attend but have visited and those visits made her descriptions that much more palpable. This book will be a jumping off point to explore more of the references the author describes. I rarely find books that I can't put down but this was one of them.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e15130c) out of 5 stars creating warrior-poets 17 Jan. 2008
By Frank L. Greenagel Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
One cadet asked her, "Ma'am, English class is the only place where we don't have to read about war all the time. Can't we read something else?" This question brought home to me how difficult it is actually to avoid war in the theme of literature. (pg. 41)

Samet began teaching at West Point in 1997. She completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard and her graduate degree at Yale. Neither fully prepared her for life with the United States Army. After her interview, which she fully describes, she finds herself a double outsider - as both a civilian and a woman. After war breaks out in the Middle East, she states that she has become Penelope (Ulysses' wife), as she waits for news about her former students.

The title is the WWI name for "battle-fatigue," "shell-shock," or PTSD. As she stays at West Point longer, she settles into her role - which is to train scholars and soldiers. She uses literature to prepare her students for some of the questions, problems and struggles that they may face as a leader of troops (in peace or in war). She spends a great deal of time on Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare.

Samet does a wonderful job weaving in stories of US Grant, her hero, into the narrative. About a half-dozen students play big parts - their education, reaction and post-school experiences provide the reader with a very gripping perspective of the 21st century officer corps.

She discusses the major role of religion in the Army, and how some soldiers are much more outspoken about their beliefs than others. Samet also writes about the importance of dissent in the military, and how the United States wants it officers to disobey bad orders (and how she teaches dissent through literature - especially Ambrose Bierce). She references many books, several movies, her Dad, co-workers and other cadets. In an appendix, she lists dozens of books and movies that she used to teach and/or mean a great deal to her cadets.

If someone is interested in this book or how literature is read by soldiers during war, I highly recommend they read "Bagdad Express", by Joel Turnipseed.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e58eb10) out of 5 stars "Books Are Weapons" 8 Dec. 2008
By Sam Sattler - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
English professor Elizabeth Samet arrived at West Point with a perspective much different than that of her students. At West Point, she is a minority in more ways than one: civilian, female and, one has to suspect, politically much more liberal than the vast majority of her students.

Samet, with a Harvard BA, a PhD in English literature from Yale, and no military experience, is perhaps an unlikely candidate to be a West Point instructor. But for the past ten years that is exactly what she has been - teaching the "literature of war" to students likely to experience the real thing for themselves soon after leaving the academy. In the process, Samet offers her students the opportunity to consider the moral and ethical nuances of the profession for which they are so rigorously preparing themselves. Theirs is a world of contradictions, and Samet strives to show them how a study of the great literature of the past can help them function effectively in that world.

In "Soldier's Heart", Samet sets out to prove that the way that the military regards itself is largely a reflection of the way it has been represented in literature. But as she sees it, despite the fact that the military embraces that image, its leadership still largely distrusts literature and those who enjoy it as a pastime, fearing that they are not as masculine as warriors need to be for the good of themselves and their country. Needless to say, Samet does not agree and finds, to the contrary, that her students learn much about themselves through an "unflinching look at both the romance and the reality" of the profession they have chosen. She helps make her point by quoting C.S. Lewis: "We read to know we are not alone."

Samet knows how important books are to soldiers trapped in what must seem to be a never-ending war. Her own father still remembers many of the USO-distributed titles he read during the Second World War and she notes that those paperbacks reminded soldiers that "books are weapons" to be read and passed on to others. As she sees it, books can be weapons in a variety of ways: "against boredom and loneliness, obviously; against fear and sorrow; but also against the more elusive evils of certitude and dogmatism."

She recalls that one of her former students, while serving in Iraq, read at a much faster rate than when he returned to the United States. He found that while in Iraq anything that challenged or stimulated his mind made time go by much quicker than it would otherwise have for him. But back home, far from the conflicts of war, he found that his reading had lost its sense of urgency. He still enjoyed reading at his slower pace, and he still loved books, but "he was no longer reading for his life."

"Soldier's Heart" makes a strong case that soldiers who study "the literature of war" are better prepared for combat than those who do not, that they go into the stresses of combat with a more refined sense of themselves and the morality of warfare, an important skill and a strength that will serve our young officers, and those they lead, well.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e2ce648) out of 5 stars A Mission to Teach Poetry at West Point 11 Dec. 2007
By I, Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Samet is utterly convinced that teaching literature at West Point is a critical part of a cadet's education and preparation for service. The best part of this book concerns her experiences on campus and the classroom, and the interactions with students past. This is the part of the book that gets reviewed. But there's also a lot of background on the role of women in the military and how soldiers have always been readers. These parts are informative but not exactly dynamic. The best review I've read of this book is at [...] There is also a good one in the 12/11 issue of the Wall Street Journal.
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