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Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point First Edition Edition

41 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374180638
ISBN-10: 0374180636
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Azar Nafisi meets David Lipsky in this memoir/meditation on crossing the border between the civilian world of literature and the world of the military during 10 years of teaching English at West Point. Samet's students sometimes respond to literature in ways that trouble her, but she lauds their intellectual courage as they negotiate the multiple contradictions of military life. Considering the link between literature and war, Samet insightfully explores how Vietnam fiction changed American literary discourse about the heroism of military service. Beyond books, Samet also examines how televised accounts of the Iraq War have turned American civilians into war's insulated voyeurs, and discusses the gap separating her from the rest of the audience watching a documentary on Iraq. Lighter, gently humorous sections reveal Samet's feelings about army argot. She has been known to ask her mother to meet her at 1800 instead of at 6:00 p.m., but she forbids the use of the exclamation Hooah!(an affirmative expression of the warrior spirit) in her classroom. Samet is prone to digressions that break the flow of great stories, like an account of her West Point job interview. But this meditation on war, teaching and literature is sympathetic, shrewd and sometimes profound. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

"What’s the difference, ma’am? I’ll be in Iraq within a year anyway," contends a cadet in Elizabeth Samet’s English class. Soldier’s Heart responds by making a graceful, compelling case that reading forces her students to slow down and reflect on such timeless themes as courage, honor, and sacrifice, which results in better, more thoughtful soldiers. Part memoir, the book also examines her teaching career and shares her opinions of religion in the military and the war in Iraq. It is her sketches of students and colleagues that stand out, however, as she challenges stereotypes and provides a moving tribute to these proud, admirable men and women. By demonstrating that reading has an important place in the military, she makes a strong case for its value in civilian life as well.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374180636
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374180638
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #886,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 25, 2007
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.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By David Hale on November 19, 2007
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.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Frank L. Greenagel Jr. on January 17, 2008
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).
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on December 8, 2008
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.
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