Monday, March 09, 2009

Book Review: "This Republic of Suffering"

Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering offers a bold new perspective on the Civil War, examining that terrible conflict through the lens of the more than 600,000 deaths which resulted from it. In a series of gripping and compelling chapters, Faust covers every conceivable angle of death as it was, from the ways in which technological and tactical changes led to significant increases in killing power to the ways in which the American understanding of death had to change in order to encompass the relentless torrent.

Other topics covered include the use of propaganda to portray the enemy as "the other" (a time-honored tradition to help soldiers cope with the idea of killing people), military burial practice in policy and practice, the impact of Civil War deaths on civilian families, the identification of casualties, various rituals of death and mourning, and the philosophical doubt about life and death which began to creep into the American mind and literary canon as a result of the war.

Not an easy book to read, but one well worth reading. One of the best classes I took in college was on the history of death in America, and this book will, I'm sure, find its way onto the reading list for that course and others like it.

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