Whether in real life with the Iraq War hitting the seven-year mark and the Afghanistan War seeing record casualties in June, or in movie theaters—where Restrepo and last year's The Messenger have won raves and The Hurt Locker raked in six Oscars—war and the military are central to American culture.
That's logical enough when, according to former secretary of labor Robert Reich (who recently called the military "America's biggest jobs program"), there are more than 1.4 million Americans on active duty, another 833,000 in the reserves, and another 1.6 million working for companies that supply the military.
Publishers are doing their part for the war effort, too: Sebastian Junger's War (Twelve, May) has been on PW's bestseller list for 14 weeks, and the number of titles in the category is holding steady, even as publishers cut back elsewhere. "Military history has always been a durable category, in good times and bad," says Da Capo executive editor Bob Pigeon.
Crown/Broadway editor Charlie Conrad says this is because "combat and warfare are, like crime, extraordinarily powerful narrative vehicles, and there are few events that evoke human drama the way war does." This fall, Crown will publish Larry Colton's No Ordinary Joes: The Extraordinary True Story of Four Submarines in War and Love and Life (Oct.), and Broadway will offer Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War by Giles Whittell (Oct.) and Robert Gandt's The Twilight Warriors (Nov.), about naval aviators in WWII.
WWII: Up Front
Conrad reports that books on WWII continue to sell particularly well, an opinion shared by the Caliber imprints of Berkley and NAL. NAL's hardcover of the March 2010 title The Pacific—Hugh Ambrose's companion book to the HBO miniseries of the same name, both about military action in the Pacific theater during WWII—spent 11 weeks on PW's list. Sales are expected to spike this month, when HBO will air a one-day series marathon, and again in the fall, upon release of the DVD boxed set. Additional WWII titles from Caliber, Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley and the Partnership That Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe and No Surrender, the posthumous memoir of a D-Day parachutist, will be published by NAL in January and Berkley in February 2011, respectively.
Da Capo's Pigeon agrees that WWII remains a "strong area within the category" and reports a bump in sales of that house's own books on the Pacific theater thanks to the HBO miniseries. In November, Da Capo will publish Alex Kershaw's The Envoy, about a man who saved more than 100,000 Jews in the last months of the war.
Managing editor Steven Smith notes that Casemate—now also distributing about 30 military history lines—finds this category's audience frequently responds to "national sensations that pop up periodically, such as Ken Burns's Civil War series in the 1990s or the more recent Spielberg/Hanks collaborations on WWII." Upcoming Casemate titles include Axis Sally by Richard Lucas (Oct.), about a showgirl-turned-propagandist whom Smith deems "the Lady Gaga of her day," and Finland's War of Choice (Jan.) by Henrik Lunde, a follow-up to his Hitler's Preemptive War (2009).
"WWII is still the king of the hill in popular military history," says senior acquiring editor Richard Kane at Zenith Press. Next month the publisher will add Patton's Third Army in World War II to its series of oversized illustrated WWII histories. Also in September, Osprey Publishing adds Midway 1942 by Mark Stille to its Campaign series. Generally, Osprey focuses on WWII titles, including the September hardcover Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany's Eastern Front 1944–1945 by Prit Buttar.
From Aquila Polonica, which specializes in the Polish experience of WWII, is 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron by Arkady Fiedler and Jarek Garlinski (Sept.), about the role played by Polish fighter pilots in defense of Britain. President and cofounder Terry Tegnazian says, "Perhaps as the result of the tragic crash of the plane carrying Poland's leaders earlier this year, we've seen an increase of interest from both the media and readers in Poland's little-known role as an important ally during WWII and the country's fate at the hands of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union."
Rick Russell, director of the Naval Institute Press, says, "Vibrant subjects include not only WWII, but also the cold war, fueled by new disclosures from U.S. and Russian archives." Forthcoming are Project Azorian: The CIA and the Raising of the K-129 by Norman Polmar and Michael White (Oct.); Victory in Defeat: The Wake Island Defenders in Captivity, 1941–1945 by Gregory J.W. Urwin (Nov.); and Betty Lussier's Secret War, 1942–1945 (Nov.).
Jo de Vries, senior commissioning editor at the History Press, expects sales of WWI books to spike as the 100th anniversaries of that conflict approach. The press will publish Somme 1914–18: Lessons in War by Martin Marix-Evans in December.
At Rowman & Littlefield, reports publisher Marcus Boggs, books on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War also sell well. "We've augmented our list for next year's 150th anniversary of the Civil War with some great writers and scholars," he says, "starting with After the War: Lives and Images of Major Civil War Figures After the Shooting Stopped by David Hardin [Sept.]." Also in the pipeline: Lincoln's Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power by Richard Striner (Sept.) and The American Civil War by Steven E. Woodworth (Feb. 2011).
Simon & Schuster will publish George Washington's First War by David A. Clary in February 2011. Roger Labrie, the senior editor who acquired the title, says, "There's still a strong audience for war books that unearth a new or overlooked story, or that cast a familiar warrior in a new and revealing light." Another unusual perspective is offered in The Gun by C.J. Chivers (S&S, Oct.), a kind of biography of the AK-47 assault rifle.
And interest in the Korean War (1950–1953) is growing. Da Capo's Pigeon says, "With the 60th anniversary approaching, and Korean War vets now telling their stories, there's a building interest in that war, too long forgotten. Our book by David Sears, Such Men as These [May], about navy fighter pilots in Korea, is doing very well at the moment; and in November we're publishing Patrick O'Donnell's cinematic narrative of the war, Give Me Tomorrow: The Korean War's Greatest Untold Story—the Epic Stand of the Marines of George Company." Also in November, Aurum Press will publish To the Last Round: The Epic British Stand on the Imjin River, Korea 1951 by Andrew Salmon, and in December NAL-Berkley/Caliber will offer Valleys of Death by Bill Richardson and Kevin Maurer, a memoir from a Korean War veteran who was a prisoner of war for almost three years.
Iraq and Afghanistan: Too Current for Comfort?
If the long and continuing wars involving the U.S. are heightening awareness of the category, one would think that publishers would offer numerous books about those wars, but most are treading cautiously. Little, Brown editor-in-chief Geoff Shandler reports that the publisher recently acquired a book on the Afghanistan conflict by Michael Hastings, author of the much discussed Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal that led to his resignation. LB plans to publish the Hastings book in summer 2011.
Shandler notes, "We expect a huge amount of anticipation and media coverage for that title. But how many situations like that are you going to find? How many Sebastian Jungers are there? There are tons of incredible stories from both Iraq and Afghanistan, countless brave soldiers who are engaged in some of the most dramatic situations imaginable. But back home war fatigue has set in, and that makes it much harder to successfully publish books that deal with those conflicts."
Shandler continues, "An author of ours, Evan Thomas, suggested that at a time when we're fighting two wars that have not been going well and show no signs of ending soon, readers are looking for triumphal military stories. I think that, as a general observation (no pun intended), he's spot on." Prominent in that category is a November LB title, Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine by Robert Coram.
A number of forthcoming titles may have been inspired by the very lack of resolution in Iraq and Afghanistan. These include Between War and Peace: How America Ends Its Wars, an anthology edited by Col. Matthew Moten under the auspices of West Point (Free Press, Jan.); How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle by Gideon Rose, managing editor of Foreign Affairs (S&S, Oct.); and Dominic Tierney's How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (Little, Brown, Nov.)
Fair Winds Press, according to publisher Will Kiester, targets as its audience "more the NPR crowd than the straight-up history crowd." Indeed, the house's Outnumbered: Incredible Stories of History's Most Surprising Battlefield Upsets was featured on NPR's All Things Considered upon its May publication, helping Cormac O'Brien's book, as Kiester puts it, "take the right step out of the gates." In November, Fair Winds will publish Why Some Wars Never End by Joseph Cummins, author of The World's Bloodiest History (2009).
Free Press has two forthcoming books on current conflicts—The Longest War: America and al Qaeda Since 9/11 by Peter Bergen (Jan.) and The Scorpion's Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan—And How It Threatens America by Wall Street Journal reporter Zahid Hussain (Nov.). And Princeton University Press has contributed to the conversation on current conflicts with Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Apr. 2010), which tracks the country's history from its time as part of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century to the Taliban resurgence today.
St. Martin's executive editor Marc Res-nick says that books that go "inside the war room" are reliable sellers. Upcoming titles include Uncommon Valor by Dwight Jon Zimmerman, John D. Gresham, and Ola Mize (Sept.), profiles of the six Medal of Honor recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Without Hesitation by Hugh Shelton, Malcolm McConnell, and Ronald Levinson (Oct.), a look behind the scenes at the Pentagon and the White House by a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist by senior military interrogator Matthew Alexander (Feb.).
Boggs of Rowman & Littlefield notes, "In recent years books on terrorism and the Middle East have found a larger audience as the cold war enemies are not so feared." Titles on current issues include American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan by Peter Dale Scott (Oct.) and Combat Trauma: A Personal Look at Long-Term Consequences by James D. Johnson (Aug.).
David Perry, assistant director and editor-in-chief at University of North Carolina Press, says, "We are reviewing more manuscripts for books on irregular warfare and the effects of war on civilians." The press cites When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans by Laura Browder and Sascha Pflaeging (May) as a successful example. Along similar lines is a September Metropolitan title, War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women Speak Out from the Ruins of War by Ann Jones.
Out of the Mainstream
Zenith's Kane diverges from the consensus, saying that books on the Iraq War do sell. In September the press will publish Heart for the Fight, the story of Brian Stann, a former Marine Corps officer who won a Silver Star in Iraq and now runs a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping returning veterans find jobs.
The Naval Institute Press has two Iraq-focused books scheduled for September: In the Gray Area: A Marine Advisor Team at War by Seth W.B. Folsom and the paperback edition of The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the Winning of Al-Anbar by Dick Couch. Russell reports that sales of books on Iraq and Afghanistan actually "have proved to be as strong and oftentimes better than sales of books about WWII and the cold war." The press is in its fourth printing of Seal of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN by Gary Williams, with 20,000 copies in print since its May publication.
Looking ahead, Steven Smith notes that Casemate sees a future place for books on Iraq and Afghanistan, though their time may not yet have arrived. He observes, "The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been more a boon to general interest or political publishers than to military history ones, for the simple reason that the history of these is not yet evident. As the U.S. and its allies prepare to withdraw from both countries, our editorial policy is to accept on-the-ground revelations that would not ordinarily hit the spotlight, but otherwise to avoid glorifying combat for its own sake, especially if undertaken naïvely."
Tales of War
Fiction in military settings is garnering considerable attention. Exhibit A: The Vietnam War novel Matterhorn received a rave review on the front page of the New York Times Book Review and spent seven weeks on PW's bestseller list following its March debut. Author Karl Marlantes observes of the burgeoning number of works of fiction about war and the military, "We have been at war in two countries for nine years. No matter how uninvolved the majority of our citizens are in the fighting, this fact eventually has to become a conscious part of the zeitgeist."
Marlantes, currently working on a novel about a female labor organizer in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest, posits that fiction can be a more effective conduit than nonfiction for relating war stories: "I chose fiction because I firmly believe that the power of literature lies in its ability to get readers to identify with the characters. In nonfiction, it's much easier to be distanced from the narrative, even abstracted."
Putnam publisher and editor-in-chief Neil Nyren thinks he has the next big military hit in The Mullah's Storm by Air National Guardsman Thomas W. Young (Sept.). He believes Young's work, which has a 150,000-copy announced first print, is the first military novel set against the backdrop of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Says Nyren, "As I started to prepare materials for my sales reps, I looked around for comp titles. Every major war has produced amazing fiction from the people who have served in it—the two world wars and Vietnam, in particular. I searched for other novels by people who had served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And came up empty."
Another novel by an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, Elliott Sawyer's The Severance (Bridge Works, Nov.), features a "rehabilitation platoon" made up of troublemakers and misfits. Copublisher Warren Phillips calls it "a 21st-century successor to WWII's The Dirty Dozen." He adds that the genre "often offers insight into the differences in how men react and behave when death is in the line beside them—their thoughts, emotions, and conduct when they must deal with the stress and ultimate tests to which their character, morality, and principles are put. And this category captures male readers at a time when men are accused of not reading much fiction—at least not to the extent women do. Women, on the other hand, do read ‘men's books,' too."
A female point of view is well represented in Siobhan Fallon's January 2010 debut, You Know When the Men Are Gone (Putnam/Amy Einhorn), which is set not on the battleground but on the home front. In interconnected short stories, it depicts life on an army base after the men have deployed. Publisher Einhorn says, "Most books about war are from a male perspective. Siobhan takes you inside the families of those fighting. This perspective is groundbreaking—and fascinating."
A fictional look at war from an unusual viewpoint is Krysia Jopek's Maps and Shadows, coming from Aquila Polonica in December, based on the author's family's experience being deported from Poland to Siberia during WWII. Aquila Polonica president and cofounder Terry Tegnazian says, "We've noticed that women readers—who have not traditionally been the dominant consumers of war literature, but who are the dominant buyers of books—are attracted by first-person storytelling that illuminates the human side of war."
Even the Naval Institute Press, which generally focuses on nonfiction, will be publishing a novel in October: For Love of Country, the second installment in William C. Hammond's nautical series, is set in the 1780s, immediately after the American Revolution. Also set during the American Revolution is the novel Trenton by Phillip Thomas Tucker (Plexus Publishing, Oct.), which depicts the titular New Jersey city both in 1774, as the conflict is brewing, and in the present. "New Jersey has been getting a great deal of attention nationally, much of it unflattering—think Jersey Shore," says editor-in-chief and publisher John B. Bryans. "This novel reflects the greatness of the Garden State and its capital city, and should find many admirers among those who are tired of the negative stereotypes." Plexus plans to market the book both to readers of historical and military fiction and readers of contemporary fiction—two audiences, Bryans notes, that don't often overlap.
Military Writing Prize
As the U.S war and military situation grows increasingly complex, good writing that explores military history becomes ever more valuable. And military history writing has a prize of its own: the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. This year's winner, historian Rick Atkinson, will receive the $100,000 award and a medallion in Chicago on October 22. Established in 2003, the Pritzker Military Library is a nonprofit research institute that collects materials dedicated to the "citizen soldier"; the award is sponsored by the Tawani Foundation, a grant-making organization with the purpose, in part, of recognizing and supporting the work of military personnel.
Atkinson, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has also been awarded the George Polk Award and the Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He served as a reporter and editor at the Washington Post for 25 years and is currently working on the third book in a trilogy about the American role in the liberation of Europe in WWII. Fittingly, he is the son of a U.S. Army officer who grew up on military posts.
Portraits of War
In October, Welcome Books will publish The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II, a collection of more than 150 b&w photographs of veterans and text of their recollections. Thomas Sanders, the photographer behind the project, was only in his 20s when he began creating the work.
Publisher Lena Tabori recalls, "It came in last summer as an unsolicited package of photographs—filled with incredible faces. We were fascinated by the idea that a young man had immersed himself, for almost two years, shooting and listening to WWII vets." The house then introduced the photographer to StoryCorps interviewer Veronica Kavass, who handled the text.
Although WWII ended 55 years ago, Tabori says this look at its veterans is of special importance today: "This is a story of a country united being published at a time when that same country is so profoundly divided. We are losing these veterans every day. It is critical to hear their stories and understand how to come together again."
For Those Coming Home
As the large number of titles noted in this article attests, numerous publishers offer books about the military, but the Government Institutes imprint at Rowman & Littlefield is one of the few publishing books for people serving in the military.
Government Institutes has been publishing reference books since 1973. In January 2009 it offered The Wounded Warrior Handbook: A Resource Guide for Returning Veterans by Don Philpott and Janelle Hill, which earned a starred review in Library Journal and quickly found an audience among returning soldiers attempting to navigate the complex bureaucracy of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
The imprint is now using The Wounded Warrior Handbook as an anchor title for a series that will soon include Special Needs Families in the Military: A Resource Guide by Philpott and Hill (Dec.); Combat-Related Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD: A Resource and Recovery Guide by Philpott and Cheryl Lawhorne (Dec.); and The Military Marriage Manual: Tactics for Successful Relationships (Oct.) by Philpott, Lawhorne, and Hill.
Rowman & Littlefield marketing v-p Linda May says, "We've developed a critical mass of books that are meant to be of help to returning war veterans or people currently serving in the military and their families. They're meant to be very practical. Generally, with these books we sell to the library market for about a year and then make a decision about whether the book's going to be a trade title." May herself has a special interest in the series: she has a son who is a career officer in the navy.