Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Soldiers Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point

I am part of an early reviewer program. Once a month, a website that I belong to, posts a list of about 40-50 books that publishers are offering for early review. I request the ones I think I would like to read and at the end of the month I am notified if I get a book. The publisher mails me a free book and in return I write a review and post it on the website www.librarything.com

There is no expectation that I write a positive review--only that i read and write about the book. For awhile I was getting a new book every month. I got to read some really good books and a few dogs. One--a terrible mystery--I could not get through and thus, I did not write a review, but for the most part, I read and wrote about everything that I was sent.

After about 6 months of not getting selected to review a book, I received Soldier's Heart by Elizabeth D. Samet. Soldiers Heart is an English professor's memoir about her life teaching the cadets at West Point about literature and poetry.

Here's the funny thing about the book: it is not a new book. It has been on the market since 2006 and has won several prizes. I can't figure out why it is an early review. It might be because the book was just released in paperback with a new afterward by the author, but really, it has been out for awhile and has been fairly well received.

How do I know this? Well other than the fact that it says so on the cover of the book I received, it turns out I already bought the book when it first came out in hardback!. I actually bought the book as a gift for my mother two years ago for Christmas.

The idea itself is fascinating. Lets take a look at West Point--the place where army officers are trained to go to war--and hear an expert tell how soldiers learn to appreciate poetry. How do officers become "warrior-poets"? The book illustrates perfectly one of the lessons I am always trying to teach my advisees: the liberal arts teaches someone to think. If I were on the battlefield, I would feel more comfortable if the man or woman I was following thought critically about his situation-largely as taught by reading and writing.

Ms Samet is an excellent writer. He work is infused with lessons taught and learned through poetry and prose. She examines West Point from the point of view of courage and faith. She examines the experience of women at West Point and tells of hearing about 9/11 and some of her students who were killed in Iraq.

I do not think the new afterward added much to the work but overall, readers should find this story of life at West Point a compelling one.

The memoir is a lovely thing and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing the inside of this military academy or is interested in the power and beauty of a liberal arts education.


lisa said...


I recall heading a review about this book on NPR!

I checked out their archives and sure enough: www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15890388

I think your endorsement and review weight more with me than anyone else's.


sweetcakes said...

I wonder if this would be a good read for my nephew who is at West Point now, or maybe his parents......or grandparents. What do you think?

Steph said...

My Mom just visited West Point on a fall leaf tour of the NE. I bet she would enjoy reading this.

Esmerelda said...

Actually that is why I gave the book to my mother for Christmas two years ago. She and my Dad had gone to West Point and were coincidentally there on the day the plebes arrived for summer orientation. They were quite impressed.


Anonymous said...

When Chris lectured at West Point a few years ago, he couldn't figure out what each closely-shorn cadet was saying to him as they passed. He later figured out it was "Hello Sir." (He found IU freshmen in Eigenmann equally polite upon arriving here, I might add, but somewhat more intelligible....) I have a great memoir from the West Pointer who preceded me in my position in Cambridge, which you might like to read, and some chilling stories from the very first woman graduate of West Point, who I know once upon a time. I'd love to look at this volume. MKP

K.T. said...

I have always been facinated by West Point, since I spent so many summers in that area of the country. Several years ago, I read "The Long Gray Line" to learn more about cadet life, but it sounds like they have changed the curriculum. I just ordered the book you reviewed and I am looking forward to reading it.