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

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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.


About Elizabeth D. Samet

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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.
Published August 1, 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 292 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, War, Literature & Fiction, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Soldier's Heart

The New York Times

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As to the academy’s own history, Samet notes that when Adams and Jefferson authorized its founding, they were “deeply suspicious of the military’s apparent affinity for kings.” Every American should be grateful to those two founders for their determination that the academy should instill “a sense...

Nov 04 2007 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

The New York Times

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(At the academy is the Center for the Professional Military Ethic.) Samet describes a general, lecturing at West Point, who shows a slide with the headlines “My Lai,” “Tigris Bridge,” “Pat Tillman,” “Haditha” and “Abu Ghraib.” The point of his lecture — Samet describes him as “outraged” — is the ...

Nov 04 2007 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

Aug 13 2007 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

BC Books

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Her book questions her own role, and shares her observations as to what the study of literature and film provided the young men and women preparing for war;

Oct 18 2007 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

USA Today

She adds: "If only that latter were a typo for 'clear thinking,' I would be a lot happier."Like the best professors, Samet asks tough questions and offers no easy answers.Her book is filled with lively classroom discussions and poignant e-mails from former students now in Iraq, often writing abou...

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Open Letters Monthly

The list includes most of the authors that have threaded through the memoir, subdivided into categories of books cadets have found sustaining, books her father read in Armed Services Editions and a foundational list of works for “anyone interested in what literature can tell us about war and war ...

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Bookmarks Magazine

Samet’s big-hearted empathy with her students is all the more remarkable because she is an outsider several times over: a civilian, a woman in a still largely male environment (this year 17 percent of West Point plebes are female, a record high), and one who viewed the war in Iraq with ‘deep sorr...

Jan 31 2008 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

Samet's book is a story of one civilian professor's experience at West Point, teaching in the one department that attempts fundamentally to make cadets aware of their language, and, by doing so, help them to better interpret their own experiences.

Aug 17 2009 | Read Full Review of Soldier's Heart: Reading Lite...

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