Read Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point by Elizabeth D. Samet Online


What does literature - particularly the literature of war - mean to a student who is likely to encounter its reality? What is the best way to stir uninhibited classroom discussions in a setting that is designed to train students to follow orders, respect authority, and survive grueling physical and mental experiences? This is the terrain Samet traverses each semester, a chWhat does literature - particularly the literature of war - mean to a student who is likely to encounter its reality? What is the best way to stir uninhibited classroom discussions in a setting that is designed to train students to follow orders, respect authority, and survive grueling physical and mental experiences? This is the terrain Samet traverses each semester, a challenge beautifully captured in Soldier's Heart. The excerpt ends with an extensive list of recommended books and films.Elizabeth D. Samet and her students learned to romanticize the army "from the stories of their fathers and from the movies." For Samet, it was the old World War II movies she used to watch on TV, while her students grew up on Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan. Unlike their teacher, however, these students, cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, have decided to turn make-believe into real life.West Point is a world away from Yale, where Samet attended graduate school and where nothing sufficiently prepared her for teaching literature to young men and women who were training to fight a war. Intimate and poignant, Soldier's Heart chronicles the various tensions inherent in that life as well as the ways in which war has transformed Samet's relationship to literature. Fighting in Iraq, Samet's former students share what books and movies mean to them—the poetry of Wallace Stevens, the fiction of Virginia Woolf and J. M. Coetzee, the epics of Homer, or the films of James Cagney. Their letters in turn prompt Samet to wonder exactly what she owes to cadets in the classroom.Samet arrived at West Point before September 11, 2001, and has seen the academy change dramatically. In Soldier's Heart, she reads this transformation through her own experiences and those of her students. Forcefully examining what it means to be a civilian teaching literature at a military academy, Samet also considers the role of women in the army, the dangerous tides of religious and political zeal roiling the country, the uses of the call to patriotism, and the cult of sacrifice she believes is currently paralyzing national debate. Ultimately, Samet offers an honest and original reflection on the relationship between art and life....

Title : Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point
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ISBN : 9780374180638
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 259 Pages
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Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point Reviews

  • Saleh MoonWalker
    2018-11-16 10:46

    Onvan : Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point - Nevisande : Elizabeth D. Samet - ISBN : 374180636 - ISBN13 : 9780374180638 - Dar 259 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2007

  • Dee Arr
    2018-12-10 09:12

    What we now call PTSD was originally treated as a heart malady during the Civil War, when physicians interpreted the symptoms to be linked to cardiovascular disease. The psychosomatic cause would not be identified until many years later, and the soldiers were diagnosed as suffering from “disorderly action of the heart,” referred to during World War I as “soldier’s heart.” Elizabeth D. Samet discusses this and other subjects with West Point as the backdrop. At the time of publication, Ms. Samet had spent seven years teaching literature at the military school, and the book is a collection of well-ordered thoughts about her education of the cadets in her class. At the same time, she shares the education she received from her students and peers.Though the book’s title may have once been the description of an illness, Samet’s “Soldier’s Heart” is much more. The author shares the deepest (and darkest) thoughts of her cadets as well as her own, constantly wrapping it all within the literature of peace and war. Topics are broken down into chapters, and the expected discussions on courage and sacrifice are covered. While I initially expected this to be something on the order of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s books (“On Killing” and “On Combat”), early on I found Ms. Samet’s book to be much more personal. How do cadets come to terms with the expectations of the Army when contrasted with their beliefs?Honor and obedience (“…a duty in military culture; war turns it into a sacred duty”) are both discussed at length. While Ms. Samet may lead us in one direction or another, she still allows plenty of room for readers to think their own thoughts and arrive at new conclusions, a hallmark of a successful teacher. The author continually places us in the minds of her plebes. At the end of a lengthy discussion concerning one cadet, Kevin, Ms. Samet writes: “It is one of the great paradoxes of the Hemingway hero, Kevin found, that his cynicism is sustained by heroic fantasies. The appeal of such a sensibility to cadets believing themselves underappreciated by civilians who construe their military service as an uncomplicated desire ‘to kill people’ is understandably potent.” The author skillfully uses the literature from her class to propel her cadets toward deeper thinking, and at the same time, I found myself being educated and realizing there are many authors I need to discover (and maybe a few it wouldn’t hurt to return to read a second time). No matter what you think about the men and women who choose to serve their country as soldiers, this book will open your eyes and give you a new perspective. Five stars.

  • Patty
    2018-11-16 09:50

    When this book came up as a suggestion for my book group, I was really unsure how I felt about it. West Point? The military? Who teaches literature to soldiers? I think my reaction proved to myself that I had to at least start this book.Well, I now suggest that more of us need to read this book. These folks work hard. As a former English major, I stand in awe of what is expected of these women and men. I had good professors and they wanted a lot from us. West Point is asking much more of their students. The reading lists are phenomenal - I should start reading from these lists to catch myself up.Samet must be a good teacher. It is obvious that she cares; she pays attention and she does not expect more from her students than she does from herself. Through her book she has given me an understanding about the military that I don't think I could have gotten anywhere else.This book introduced me to a world I never cared about. That was very shortsighted on my part. Thanks, very much to NS who suggested we read this book. It enlarged my life.

  • Anna
    2018-11-25 08:10

    Elizabeth Samet, a civilian literature professor at West Point, recounts, "This is a story about my intellectual and emotional connections to military culture and to certain people in it, but the real drama lies in the way the cadets I teach and the officers with whom I work negotiate the multiple contradictions of their private and professional world....the courage with which they challenge accepted truths; the nuanced way they read literature and culture; and the ingenious methods they have for resisting conformity in lives largely given over to rules and regulations." And who knew that the Military Academy of the United States graduates English majors? Samet states, "All cadets graduate from West Point with a bachelor of science degree, but they can major in anything from mechanical engineering to Arabic. Those who elect to study in our department's art, philosophy, and literature program are the ones I know best, but in the core courses I also get the opportunity to see a cross section of cadets at work." The cadets like humanity run the gamut of all types--from the right-wing Christian to the progressive ACLU card-carrier, and you should read Samet's chronicle for her list of recommended books and films for a liberal education as well as her insights into the connections between art and life.

  • Ferris
    2018-12-06 06:58

    Okay. I have to be honest. I am politically and socially liberal, and fairly anti-military. So I give myself some credit for choosing to read this book. However, I am also a bibliophile and was fascinated to learn what role literature might play at an institution like West Point. This book was extremely interesting. The choice of literature both classic and contemporary was intriguing. It was such a pleasure to read of the author's attempts to reinforce that one can be ambivalent and committed at the same time, that thought is a good thing to hold on to, even in the obedience mentality of the military. There were many interesting anecdotes about individual students and the role literature plays in their lives. The reader is also privy to the dilemmas facing a civilian instructor at a military educational institution. Perhaps one of my greatest pleasures in this book is the marvelous use of vocabulary by the author, who clearly loves using the myriad of words available to all of us in our language. The only negative is that there were a couple of slower sections. But they are brief and certainly outnumbered by engaging and thought provoking writing by this fascinating author.

  • Alex Faxlanger
    2018-12-07 08:52

    Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point looked perfectly normal on the NPR website. From the article about it to the accompanying excerpt, I came to expect a book full of humorous stories about the odyssey of a civilian literature professor navigating the military. Instead, Professor Samet messes with your mind. At least, she messed with mine. Over the course of the book, Samet leads the reader, as she leads her students, to question our personal and societal ideas about the nature of courage, obedience, heroism, personal responsibility, and sacrifice. Through her literature classes (and through this book)she views current events through the lens of literature, poetry, and film as well as the memoirs of military leaders such as Grant and MacArthur. She also searches for and finds the relevance of literature, and--by extension--herself, in a society which she thought would view such a thing with disdain. I found myself confronting and meditating upon my own views of courage, sacrifice, and heroism, and not without some discomfort. Too early to tell whether this will be one of those books that will "change my life", but it certainly has caused a fair bit of introspection.

  • Katrina Gonsalves
    2018-11-15 08:13

    As I was reading other reviews it struck me that I did not see any comments from parents of West Point cadets or candidates. I read this book after hearing Samet interviewed on NPR and a desire to understand what my son will experience when he enters CBT (Cadet Basic Training) and West Point in three short weeks. I was deeply moved, scared, and comforted. I should mention that I had to take a break from reading TWICE in the first 15 pages as my eyes welled with tears. What these young men and women sign up for is truly heroic. And if all the courses are as rigorous as Elizabeth’s they leave West Point with a ‘World Class Education’ they so readily tout.I’m not one for long reviews so… whether it’s the closeness she has with her students, the cadets struggle to become a soldier and meld their old/new selves together, the closeness and support they receive (and you can feel this the moment you walk on base), as well as the trials they endure, this book exceeded my expectations and really opened my eyes to the real West Point. I now think this book should be required reading for all West Point parents.

  • Ed
    2018-12-14 02:46

    I really loved this book. Seems unlikely but reading about an English professor teaching poetry and literature to West Point military cadets who are going off to war, taught me a lot about literature, its importance, the ambiguity and subtlety of the military mind. It is also an important work politically because of its take on the war and on the failure to establish clear rules of war in the War on Terror. The characters who feature in this book are people you would really want to know, which is not my first reaction: go visit West Point to meet deeply thoughtful people! But hey they are and so is the author. It is also well written and I read it almost at one sitting.

  • Richard Owen
    2018-11-30 09:03

    I came across Elizabeth Samet's book at a time when one of my son's was thinking about leaving college to join the military. I was hoping to find something that would inspire him to continue his studies. As it turned out, he made up his own mind to stay before I could get very far into the book. And, as is often the case with me, the book sat for another five or six months without me turning a single page. But when I did take a closer look, this time more interested for my own sake, I stuck with it. What is it I like about the book? Literature and war and cadets coming of age and maturing in their thinking and analysis. The cadets are students willing to work at making sense of the world, not just to learn how to lead men and women in dangerous environments. But the world changed between the mid 1990s and the mid 2000s, changes prompted by 9/11 and the expansion of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Elizabeth Samet changed too as did the concerns of cadets. Much of the book is comprised of descriptive interaction between the author and the students she taught. Many lessons shared, some of them focused on text, some of them focused on the learning. Here is a story shared by the author about 'choosing the harder right.' ******************* The Courage of SoldiersWho knew you could learn so much from a hat? During my first year at West Point, I witnessed a scene that periodically returns to my thoughts. When class lets out, there is a mad press of sweaty cadets in the corridors of Thayer Hall making their way to the next class or to afternoon activities such as drill or team practice. Nothing, Errol Flynn had told me soon after my arrival, can prepare you for the steamy smell of plebes on a warm day in Thayer. He was right: that first blast of anxiety-soaked plebe on a humid late August day is like nothing else. One day, however, by the time I had emerged from my room after the last class of the afternoon, the halls were empty. The departing cadets’ scramble to collect their hat (or ‘cover,’ as they are called), backpacks, and jackets was over. Because everyone wears the same indistinguishable uniform, cadets scrawl their names on the labels, hang their garments in a peculiar way, or devise some other trick to identify their belongings. Inevitably, there is confusion: a jacket that doesn’t fit or a momentarily misplaced pack followed by a laughing exchange between parties. Walking down the hall in the wake of this tumult, you’ll sometimes see an unclaimed item hanging forlornly on the racks that line the walls.As I stood in the doorway of the classroom on this particular afternoon, I saw two plebes scurrying frantically down the hall in my direction. After unsuccessfully searching the room in which they had just had class, they stopped in front of the lone hat remaining on the rack in the otherwise empty corridor. In their distress they didn’t even notice me standing across the hall. ‘Is it yours?’ one plebe, his own hat in hand, asked the other, who was, without any luck, examining it for some mark of ownership. ‘No,’ said the hatless one. ‘What should I do?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said his friend, and they stood staring helplessly at each other.The gravity of this situation may not be immediately apparent, but for a soldier, going outside without the prescribed headgear is verboten. When we once witnessed a colonel walking the short distance from his car to a mailbox without a hat, Al, whom no one could accuse of being a martinet, shook his head in disgust. ‘Damn colonel ought to know better,’ he said. Al loves hats: he regards a Borsalino the way other people might gaze at a Raphael. ‘It takes balls to wear a hat,’ he likes to say with typically effective anatomical confusion. ‘Either you wear the hat, or the wears you.’ Uniform hats, however, are more than fashion statements. When Al momentarily misplaced his own beret in his office one day as he was getting ready to walk to class, he seriously contemplated he Kevlar helmet he had used during summer training that was still sitting on his bookshelf: ‘I’d sooner wear that Kevlar than walk to Thayer without a hat.’ If lieutenant colonels give so much thought to a missing hat, imagine the consternation of a plebe who finds himself in the same predicament.The clock was ticking, and the two friends were undoubtedly going to be late for something, but they just stood there looking at the hat as if coaxing a reluctant oracle. Then I heard the telltale scuffing footsteps of an upperclassman, and a world-weary firstie came upon the pair and asked what the matter was. He listened to their problem and said without skipping a beat: ‘Just take the hat.’ ‘Sir?’ ‘You don’t have a hat, so just take that one.’ Then, shaking his head at the obvious infirmity of these tyros, he scuffed away, leaving the plebes to stare at each other once again. ‘Do you want to take it? I mean, he said it was okay,’ ventured the friend with some hesitation. But the hatless plebe replied decisively and fluently: ‘If I take this hat, then the guy who forgot it won’t have one. When he comes back to look for it, it won’t be here.’ The plebe now faced the daunting prospect of running a gauntlet of upperclassmen and officers who would first demand to know why he wasn’t wearing a hat and then ’flame’ him for daring to provide them with the requested explanation. In the short distance between Thayer Hall and the barracks, it wasn’t inconceivable that he would have been stopped a number of times by an assortment of eagle-eyed predators. There would be no excuses, and he knew it. Yet when he arrived at his beautiful conclusion, his misery seemed to fall away because he had discovered within himself a particular kind of courage: the courage to do the right thing. The Cadet Prayer requests divine assistance in pursuing a number of laudable goals, among them ‘honest dealing’ and ‘clean thinking.’ If only that latter were a typo for ‘clear thinking,’ I would be a lot happier. As is, it reminds me of the message I once read on a church marquee: DUSTY BIBLES LEAD TO DIRTY LIVES.’ But the passage I hear cadets quote most often is this one: ‘Make us choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.’ To explain both their own behavior and that of a literary character, they will often invoke the language of the prayer. ‘Well, ma’am,’ one might say during a discussion of the Weird Sisters’ prophecy in Macbeth, ‘Banquo chose the harder right.’ And that hatless plebe whose name I never learned and whom I never saw again remains for me the definition of choosing the harder right. Elizabeth D. SametSOLDIER’S HEARTP 185 - 187

  • Miroku Nemeth
    2018-12-02 08:45

    When I began reading “Soldier’s Heart,” this book interested me as the son of a veteran of Vietnam who was the son of a veteran of World War II, as the son of a father who came back from his time as a medic being wounded by bullets and shrapnel to join Vietnam Veterans Against the War. It interested me as an English teacher and adjunct professor who had both taught students thinking of going into the military at the high school and combat veterans at the college. I have been persecuted at the high school for teaching honestly about war using a vast wealth of literature from Homer and Shakespeare to Crane and Twain, Remarque, Heller, O'Brien, and so many others, and have found nothing but brotherhood and respect from those I have taught at the college.Samet’s work did and did not live up to my expectations. There was a bit too much description of and pride in her elite academic upbringing in the book that distances her as a narrator from your average reader and even more so from your average soldier. Her writing style is best when purely academic, though with the limitations of academic writing, while her narrative style is often convoluted and rarely engaging. I read several reviews of the book from readers prior to my own reading, and came to this book with high expectations, and was very let down by it on this level. Samet’s review of the literature of war, what I was really interested in, is mixed. It is often very subjective and repetitive, and often narrow and entirely Euro-centric in scope. But she does have some marvelous insight into the literature of war, and I will provide a couple of the passages that really struck me here:“The machine of military culture works to turn each death, no matter the cause or circumstance, into an occasion for celebrating the warrior spirit. In the most thoughtful warriors, such deaths also occasion reflection about the nature of military service and the relationship between soldiers and the society they serve. When I read the ancient epics with cadets or talk them over with my colleagues, we often find less truth and power in the rousing battle cries of Agamemnon and his fellow bloody-minded enthusiasts than in the disillusion of Achilles, the humanity of Hector, or the ambivalence of Aeneas.” (25) “As I read the Iliad with the plebes….the part I found most moving was Hector’s departure from his wife and son at the end of book six. In the years, since, its power has grown; I find myself returning to the Trojan hero’s valedictory to his family and his city. Hector is able to conjure with arresting clarity the vision of a postwar world in which he will have no part: he envisions with foreboding his fellow soldiers ‘tumble in the dust,’ his parents die, Troy itself ‘crushed by enemies.’ Heavier than all these griefs is the knowledge that his wife will become a Greek captive. To preserve her freedom in the face of all the prophecies that spell out Troy’s doom, Hector leaves the city behind with the knowledge that he is behaving nobly, in the only way that ‘the one man strong enough/to fight off’ his wife’s ‘day of slavery’ can. In saying goodbye to his son, Hector acknowledges simultaneously the full psychic cost of the warrior ethos and one of the driving forces behind it. Weary yet determined, he prays to Zeus that his son might one day carry home the bloody armor of a vanquished enemy—that he might, in other words, reprise, or even outdo, his father’s battlefield heroics. In Hector’s wish for his son, I read the perdurability of war’s romance, but I also like anachronistically to see a prototype of the citizen-soldier. Unlike Achilles, Hector isn’t a killing machine, and his martial ambitions always seem to me bound up with the survival of the city and the culture he defends. The mythology of the citizen-soldier lies at the heart of the American military tradition. It was central to the political philosophy of West Point’s civilian founders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were both deeply mistrustful of soldiers and standing armies, and it had its fullest flowering in the World War II G.I.” (42-43)“Most of the authors we studied had fairly clear ideas about how sympathy worked: the farther away the victim, the less sympathetic we become. Hume’s claim that we are touched more nearly by the scratching of our finger than by the deaths of unseen millions encapsulated the dynamic. In a similar formation, Adam Smith wrote: ‘If [a man] was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.’ This aspect of human nature was either something to be borne or something to transcend. Some authors were more optimistic than others. Burke offered one model in ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ (1790)” ‘to love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle, the germ as it were, of public affections…the first link in the series by which we proceed toward a love to our country and to mankind.’” (218)While this may seem harsh, I will have to say that her visions of the Middle East, etc. are terribly narrow and Orientalist, and this is a fatal flaw that goes to the essence of why her privileged and elite education have given her no way to fully communicate or perhaps understand the complexity, or perhaps the very simple, humanity of the peoples and regions that her students travel to kill people in. She is intelligent and educated, and seems politically very liberal and often thoughtful, but there is an inadequacy in this aspect of her writing that has been institutionally produced, and is need of amendment in American society. An academic from Yale, Harvard, and West Point represents nothing if not institutional America, and it is an institutional misinformed and both dangerous to others and to itself as a result.

  • Kim Miller-Davis
    2018-11-24 02:49

    This book is written by an English professor at West Point who relates her experiences teaching literature to cadets, who, despite their youth and relative inexperience, will likely find themselves leading troops into battle halfway across the world soon after they graduate. I bought this book for my husband in 2007 thinking that since he's a reader who attended the Air Force Academy, he would see himself in the stories of the cadets. However, the only thing he did with it was put it on the shelf. So, last weekend, I decided to read it myself. (A quick disclaimer: I served in the Army for 5 years as a mental health counselor and I now teach English Composition & Literature at two local community colleges so this book was a perfect fit for me in a lot of ways. I'll get to that in a minute.)First, a warning: I'm not sure this book was packaged/marketed correctly. Based on the descriptions on the cover and inside flap, I bought it under the mistaken impression that it was a "mainstream" account of literary education at West Point i.e. an educator's perspective told in easily understood language and accessible style. It's not. There are times when Samet's narrative voice is purposeful and clear. However, there are more times when she employs the meandering style of an academician's analytical ponderings that, although brilliant in depth and scope, initially appear to be divergent and convoluted. This might be off-putting for anyone expecting much lighter fare. Having said that, it's a really, really good analysis. Samet uses the intersection of her own experiences and those of her cadets to illustrate some larger points about the true meaning of honor, duty, and courage.Here's a list of some of the best parts of the book:1)Her descriptions of cadet life at West Point. 2) Anecdotal stories of the cadets' reactions to a wide array of literary works. (She details their in-class analyses as well as the ways in which the literature continued to impact their military lives long after they left West Point.)3)Explanations of the history of West Point teaching philosophies.4)Samet's observations of representations in various works (ancient through present-day) of individual warrior psychology and military culture.5)Samet's argument that a foundation in Liberal Arts Education is a necessity for success in any arena of professional life...even those in which it might appear as if the Arts are completely unrelated e.g. the military. (She clearly articulates the process by which liberal arts courses facilitate logical and emotional development.)6)Samet's thorough analysis of gender role expectations in war literature and in the military culture.7)Samet's brief, but interesting, exploration of the depiction of PTSD in literature.An interest in any one of the above items makes the struggle completely worth the effort.

  • Michael
    2018-12-02 10:50

    Elizabeth Samet's book explores the human side of her English literature students. But her students are subject to unique pressures not common amongst college students as her students are cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and will become the newest officers of the United States Army upon their graduation. Recounting her experiences meeting and teaching these cadets, Samet shows their real humanity and individuality as they are formed to join an organization thought to be focused on eliminating those values. At the same time, she shows how literature can be entirely relevant to their training and experiences by helping to prepare them for what they will face, both in terms of their chosen profession and their lives. As much as it is an interesting account of life in a different sort of academic setting, Samet's book goes to reverse the process of dehumanization that soldiers of the Army have undergone in society. By being set apart by their duties and roles, by being separated from the civilian world by entry into a professional, volunteer military, members of the military are often viewed as identical, monolithic, and inhuman. Samet shows this to be not so. Her view of those who will be the next generation of American military leaders shows their humanity and how important their humanity is to their roles as leaders and warriors.

  • Theron
    2018-11-24 06:52

    It was either NPR's Weekend Edition or All Things Considered that introduced me to Elizabeth Samet, literature professor at West Point. Either way, I kept her book, Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, on my reading list a good long time before picking it up.Samet does what I think she needed to accomplish in here book, describe why teaching literature to future soldiers is so important. I thought it was a given, but Samet describes the thinking of soldiers and civilians that challenge that very idea. "BOOKS ARE WEAPONS" echoes throughout the pages. Not just like swords, but also body (and mind) armor. I also could not resist a book about books. I created an unofficial bibliography for anyone interested.

  • krista.
    2018-12-08 10:05

    Very well-written and thoughtful/thought-provoking. In spite of the density of the book, I found myself wanting to know more about various facets of West Point, Army life, and specific events to which Samet referred.More than that though, I feel like I am coming away from reading this book with a better vision of soldiers as people. It's painfully easy to look at people who do things we don't understand and to assume things. This seems to have been made even easier in recent years due to the extremely polarized nature of commentary on war and the military, especially in relation to the War on Terror. Samet's discussion of her students and their relationships/reactions to literature made me think a lot more than I expected, and it answered a lot of questions about why a person might enter that world. Unrelated to how the book affected me personally, Samet did a remarkable job of relating her work. She clearly has a great understanding of the literature that she teaches, and she uses that knowledge to offer some very interesting insights into the world of West Point and the Army itself. I truly enjoyed reading this book.

  • Larry
    2018-11-15 09:01

    The subtitle explains the book: "Reading literature through peace and war at West Point," for Elizabeth Samet has been a (ery much) civilian English professor at the military academy since 1997. Her book is about what it's like to teach literature to young men and women embarked on a career as US Army officers, especially since the events ushered in by 9/11. It is a tremendous book, not least because of the stereotypes about the military that it critically examines and frequently demolishes. The purpose of literature is to transform readers as thinkers and decision makers, and the military academy's leadership and professors are amazingly open to what that transformation requires. Samet is not blind to the obstacles, for military life makes demands for obedience and conformity that are very real. Her depiction of the intellectual and emotional challenges that face those who intend to serve (and those already serving) is detailed, rich, and fair. It is, regardless of context, one of the very best books about teaching that I've read. My copy, unlike a lot of my books, is critically annotated every step of the way, and I envy Samet her students.

  • Mark Luongo
    2018-12-06 04:48

    I must admit I don't know if I got out of this book what I was expecting. Now that I've finished it I don't know what I was expecting. In it she discusses the "subculture" that is West Point from a civilian point of view. But by no means does she use that to criticize the military or current policies but instead focuses on the charge that she has been given. That is the education of future Army officers by using the experience of literature to allow them to think. I hope I explained that clearly enough. No "robots" for her. This book is what I call a "thinking read", you have to pay attention.She is a fan of U.S. Grant and his memoirs as well as a film buff which she references throughout the book. I've gotten a couple of reading and film suggestions from her work.A quote from the author:"As I sustain the faith that I am equipping my students through the study of literature with the ability to read and interpret their world, one of the things I have begin to suspect is that there is no preparation - not in the Bible, not in the Aeneid, not in Henry James - wholly adequate to some of the experiences they may well endure."She has that right.

  • Marv
    2018-11-23 03:48

    This was a good read. I wasn't that interested when I started to read this, but it quickly turned into an engrossing read. Samet is an English Professor at West Point. Her book explores the importance of literature to the cadets that are soon probably going to head off to Iraq. One of the interesting aspects of the book is that it covers a period of time before and after 9/11 so you get a unique look at how things changed after the terrorist attacks. It is divided into chapters that deal with the different roles and experiences that cadets go through. One deals with the role of women, one deals with when to obey or disobey orders and others deal with the depiction of death and war in literature. The book also shows how intellectual West Point is and has been. Most of the Cadets depicted defy the stereotypes that most people impose on the military and you get a good idea of the intelligence that most of the Cadets need in order to not only graduate, but to also excel as officers in the army. Overall a really interesting read.

  • Pat
    2018-12-02 07:46

    This book held great interest for me. My husband is a West Point graduate and I am a voracious reader with an English degree. The concept of creative thinking among the military is counter to the imperative and reigning philosophy, particularly in combat situations. Yet, the understanding of the literature that Samet presented to her students expands their intellectual and emotional capacities, which in turn makes them more effective leaders. Samet's choice of the literature they read is absolutely excellent. It was fascinating to read about their spirited discussions in the classroom and to become acquainted with some of the cadets whom she taught. Her own reflections about the emotional cost to her of personally knowing some of the young men and women who would be deeply involved in life-threatening situations were deeply moving. By knowing and challenging each other, she and her students all gained an enlightened perspective. I am deeply grateful that someone as filled with heart and knowledge is teaching at an institution I revere.

  • Shana
    2018-11-29 09:05

    A while ago, my mom picked up Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point, by Elizabeth D. Samet for me since I’ve been trying to book-educate myself on the military. It has been sitting on my bookshelf for months, but I finally decided to read it.It wasn’t my favorite. It also proved to me that professors of English aren’t necessarily good writers. There wasn’t much of a thread to follow through the chapters, and at times it felt very disjointed and like a random jumble of thoughts related to West Point, literature, students, and tidbits from her personal life. Some were interesting, others just dragged on.I did, however, enjoy how she instilled a love for literature in some of her students. Some may think a knowledge of literary greats is irrelevant for those headed to war, but I think our soldiers should be well-read, if only to learn how to be more critical thinkers and to open their minds to the experiences and narratives of others. A more thoughtful solider, in my humble opinion, is a more responsible soldier. But then again, what do I know?

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2018-12-15 06:04

    "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.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  • Cathy
    2018-12-05 03:09

    Fascinating look at a world few of us will ever see first-hand. As a former college professor (marketing - business schools), I must admit I wish I could have demanded perfect attendance from students. Samet does not provide a linear narrative so we don't get a sense of how she changed. I would have liked to get more of a sense of a typical day, week and month. And I wish she had speculated more about her own role as a civilian who was beginning to think like a military person. As a career consultant, I wonder about her future and her options. What can she do if she decides to leave the academy? Can she navigate back to another university or a whole different career?Terrific book on many levels. If you like books about college professors, then Gail Griffin's books (Season of the Witch and The Calling) are highly recommended. They're published by a small press and can be hard to find.

  • Mary Stephanos
    2018-12-06 09:03

    The daughter of a military man, Elizabeth Samet had some idea what she was in for when she accepted a position as an English professor at West Point. Her interesting and inspiring account of teaching in the predominantly male military academy demonstrates just how vital literature is not only to the development of the individual student but also to the growth of the soul. Confronted with the all-too-real possibility of injury or death in their near future, her students--often incredulous at first--connect with the books and poetry they study, by turns escaping and confronting the violence that has or soon will define their lives. In the process of detailing these budding relationships with the written word, Samet reveals how necessary books are for the development of humane, reflective soldiers. Towards the end, the book loses focus and dwells too much on military politics and less on literature, but this is a minor detraction. Highly recommended.

  • Ensiform
    2018-12-08 07:11

    The author has taught literature at West Point for ten years, and writes of the ways in which literature has shaped her students. The book provides a few glimpses at memoir, but mostly it’s a look at how 9/11 changed cadets’ attitudes toward academics, and a reflection on the connection between the analysis of literature and military life.I was blown away by the passion of some of her students for classic literature, film, and poetry; the book certainly does much to destroy uninformed stereotypes about officers in the US military. More to the point, Samet does an excellent job justifying her position, making a strong case for the study of literature in all its nuances being good background for the future choices an officer may make. She writes of appreciating through literature moral courage as opposed to physical bravado, as in the writing of General Grant. It’s a thought-provoking and even moving book.

  • Glenda
    2018-11-23 05:12

    "The mythology of the citizen-soldier lies at the heart of the American military tradition," writes Elizabeth Samet, English professor at West Point. It's this mythology and the plethora of literature about war in the Western literary cannon Samet delineates in her memoir. Seduced by this mythology and the narrative constructed by the military, Samet teaches her students and, in turn, her reader, that literature permeates military life. "The Army is a giant found poem, its newness intriguing and exciting" (63).From her descriptions of students studying "The Iliad" to her critique of Tim O'Brien's Vietnam texts, to the ways literature served soldiers on the battlefield, Samet creates an important source for those interested in knowing more about the prevalence of war in literature and the value of literature in soldiers' hearts.

  • Mark L.
    2018-12-09 11:13

    Soldier’s Heart provided a welcome insight on the activities of America’s military academy. However it was often difficult for me to connect with author’s academic style. Although I did enjoy the book I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for the average reader. There’s definitely a story here that needs to be told regarding the important role literature plays in the development of future officers. I just feel Samet wasn’t able to convey this message to the average reader. At times I felt as if she was trying to flex academic muscle instead of educational humility. Imagine how many more readers she could have reached if she wrote more like a novelist instead of an English Professor. I give it 3 stars for the philosophical reader but for all others I find it as a must have for transatlantic flights.

  • Gregg
    2018-11-17 03:50

    A fascinating account of an English teacher's classes at West Point academy. She uses a verbose, erudite style I can only admire as she describes the struggles her students ("plebes" is the nickname for freshmen) go through in the classroom and with the military culture overall, even as she compares the microcosm of the military society with the gamut of commentary within the annals of literature on subjects such as duty, obedience, unquestioning loyalty, and the like. She also records her colleagues' and students' reactions to the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, giving an insider's perspective it's all too easy to forget exists when reading newspaper stories about Blackwater and troop surges. I'd take her class in a heartbeat.

  • Amy
    2018-11-22 02:59

    This is a really good book, full of wise observations about literature, teaching, community, and warfare. But the book's central problematic feature can be summed up in this line from it: Once again I have retreated--or advanced--to literature perhaps because I'm more comfortable analyzing it than I am my own relationship to war and to the people who wage it.There's a lot of emotional attachment and...sadness?...under the surface in the book that's continually overtaken by scholarly ruminations. I would have loved to read more about students and the "Teacher's Heart" is takes to work with them in such precarious times, rather be taken through lengthy discussions on the meanings of the texts they read.

  • Sarah
    2018-11-15 04:49

    This is one of those poor books which will suffer from being just ever so slightly too academic (another reason in my secret why-I-dropped-out-of-grad-school saga: you just can't get rid of that icky dry style! It clings like eczema!) Samet has a lot of fine insights on a real, honest-to-God intersection of literature and reality: the reading habits of soldiers and their effect on how they think, act, and conduct war and peace (not to mention the ways in which literature helped her understand and grow into her role as a civilian professor at West Point), but I'm sure a lot of interested people will miss out on her insights either by skipping the book or by bailing on it when she gets away from her real narratives and starts working her academic voodoo.

  • Margaret
    2018-12-03 10:05

    As someone who toyed briefly with the idea of the Naval Academy and was separated by afew degrees from one of the first women at West Point, these institutions have held some fascination for me - no doubt, the "liturgical" quality of the military is a piece of this. But I had higher hopes for this book - it talked more about her than about her students, and was focused on ancient literature that I haven't read. Still, it was worth reading as a reminder of the value of a liberal arts education and that those who choose the military as a profession wrestle with ethical choices as much as anyone.

  • James
    2018-11-21 05:07

    Deeply fascinating, thought-provoking, and moving. The author describes her experiences teaching literature and writing at West Point. Her accounts of a number of cadets she's taught, with some of whom she's stayed in close touch, are intriguing. It's inspiring to know that one of our military academies is doing such a good job of teaching officers to be critical thinkers who are exposed to all perspectives and deeply aware of history and their place in the world. Anyone who thinks that people in the military are dull or mindless, or that we're all alike politically or philosophically, needs to read this book among others.