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This Republic of Suffering

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  3,743 ratings  ·  429 reviews
More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply relig ...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2008)
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Steve Sckenda
John Palmer carried the bullet that killed his son with him to the grave. Henry Bowditch wore the watch fob fashioned from his fallen son’s uniform button. Mary Todd Lincoln dressed in mourning until she died. Henry Struble annually laid flowers on the grave that mistakenly bore his name. Civil War Americans lived the rest of their lives with grief and loss. (266)

The American Civil War reaped a “harvest of death” that created a “republic of suffering,” says Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harva
"Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a ma ...more
you know that very un-scientific statistic about how the average male thinks about sex once every two minutes? well, triple that and replace 'sex' with 'death' and that's me. at the age of twelve, i'm certain woody allen used me as the basis for his character in Hannah and her Sisters. and ol' leo prolly based levin on me, as well! while other kids were stroking it to penthouse, i was rocking back and forth in fetal position from too many re-readings of the Grand Inquisitor section of The Brothe ...more
It's well known that there were huge numbers of casualties during the Civil War. But what lies behind the numbers? Every single death represents a life - a son, a husband, a brother. What were the faces and feelings and experiences behind the numbers?

This book considers aspects of death and dying and suffering I would never have thought of: the emotions of the soldiers anticipating possible death as they go into battle; the mental or emotional adjustments involved in learning to kill; the desire
Aug 16, 2008 Steve rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Steve by: Karen
Shelves: non-fiction, history, war
Drew Gilpin Faust’s The Republic of Suffering is a necessary, and long overdue, cultural history of a largely ignored aspect of the Civil War. Basically, it’s a history of Death on a massive scale in what many historians view as the first modern war, and how society (or societies – North and South) dealt with such losses. There were of course differences in how the North and South did deal with such losses, especially when it came to locating bodies for reburial. For the North, location and rebu ...more
Over 600,000 deaths occurred as the result of the Civil War. Drew Faust has explored this fact to gain perspective and understanding not only of that conflict but of the legacy that was left to us today. Let me briefly summarize each of her chapters, giving a sense of the book’s content.

Chapter 1 – Dying. During the mid-19th century, when most deaths occurred at home and surrounded by loved ones, there was the Victorian concept of a Good Death – alert and aware, willing to let go, surrounded by
About America's national PTSD in the wake of the Civil War. More than 600,000 soldiers died - an equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. That doesn't include the wounded, and civilian casualties. Americans had to realize the enormity of what had happened to their country, to every family, to do the work of burying, naming, accounting, and numbering.

Both sides assumed the conflict would last a couple of months. Neither planned for care of the wounded, housing prisoners,
The book succeeds despite, not because of, the audiobook narrator. Lorna Raver's highly exaggerated enunciation and cadence worked my last nerve for most of it. By the end, it improved. In the way that the last 30 minutes of a root canal improves. Cuz it'll all be over soon.... So if you have the choice of book vs audio, I'd suggest the book. Unfortunately my library only had the audio.

That said, I enjoyed the history and all the different aspects of death during the Civil War, from the practica
If I were being mean, I might say that Faust writes like an administrator--she is the president of Harvard--but instead I'll just say that she seems to prefer details to narrative and is reluctant to use just one or two pertinent examples when she can use a half dozen. Occasionally this is effective at indicating the scope of Civil War carnage but often it drags the book down. The chapter on "accounting" is the longest in the book and really slows down the pace in the latter half of the book. Th ...more
James Murphy
This seems to me to be such a necessary history that I wonder why it wasn't written until now. About 620,000 men died during the Civil War from combat and disease. An equivalent proportion to our present population would be about 6 million. How does a society cope with such enormous loss? Faust's fascinating book of military and social history attempts to tell how. Simply put, it's a book about death, what it meant in mid-19th century America, and how those huge numbers of military deaths affect ...more
Frank Stein

An odd and insightful look at the meaning and practices of dying in the American Civil War.

Even at its worst, the book is a series of interesting vignettes and anecdotes about the innumerable little tragedies of the war. Not the best social history out there, but still intriguing. At its best, and this is the majority of the book, it is an eye-opening look at a whole other world of living and dying, impossibly distant from our own. For instance, Faust details the strict regulations of mourning d
Joyce Lagow
Quiet is the word that comes to mind to describe the writing of Harvard s first female president on the uncommon subject of death. A quiet regard for the over 600,000 men who perished directly due to the unbelievable carnage of the American Civil War.[return][return]There are thousands upon thousands of books written about that war. I have nearly 100 on my shelves. Some are general histories of the conflict, many are written about specific battles such as Gettysburg and Antietam. All every sing ...more
Civil War historian Drew Gilpin Faust has written an informative and troubling study of how antebellum Americans adopted and shaped a 'Culture of Death' during the bewildering and staggering carnage of the Civil War.

An estimated 620,000 soldiers were shot, blown apart by cannon fire, or killed by botched battlefield operations during the years that the war raged (1861-65). As the author points out, an equivalent proportion of the current U.S. population would be six million losses. Lincoln beli
Because I don't buy books these days, I am still "currently-reading"this thing, as the library recalled it before I could finish it. However, I have it on hold again and will finish it because the first few chapters I did manage to read before the city of Kansas City plucked the book so meanly from my hands were eminently readable, interesting and thought-provoking.

Ok. Finally read it. Must say that the preface was much more engaging than the book itself. Not that the book wasn't good; it was ju
Harvard president and Civil War scholar Drew Gilpin Faust tackles the most intimate aspects of death during the Civil War in This Republic of Suffering, a groundbreaking new book on the realities of war’s carnage. From the physical bodies on the battlefield, to the “Good Death” and the developing belief in the concept of heaven, to the growth of federal standards for counting and communicating war deaths, Faust delves into aspects of the Civil War that many haven’t considered when thinking about ...more
Steven Peterson
This is a powerful book that deals with one aspect of the Civil War in a very different context than normal--death. Many books speak of the sanguinary nature of the Civil War, death due to battlefield trauma as well as death due to disease, accident, and so on. But this book, written by Drew Gilpin Faust, addresses death on a much broader basis. As a result, this is a powerful work.

One simple fact to begin: the number of Civil War soldiers who died is about equal to the number of American dead
David Mclemore
One summer recently, my wife and I took took a drive through the southern United States, stopping off at various sites of Civil War battles and old forts. Up through Savannah, on through the Carolinas and into Virginia and Washington, D.C. Then on to Gettysburg, with stops on the way home to tour the deadly grounds of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

At each stop, we paused and looked over the killing grounds where young men by the tens of thousands died. Nearby cemeteries spread o
A surprisingly objective look at the effects of war by a Harvard president that deals with the effects of the then unparalelled deaths that ocurred during the Civil War and how the country dealt with them. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the deaths:

Believing and Doubting

At 2% of the population, the Civil War death toll was enormous (equivalent to 6 million today), more than all the wars through the Korean War combined. T
Very powerful book about the trauma of the Civil War and all of the death it created. Because I had a relative in this war (Thomas Brown, US First Sharpshooter, Company F) who left behind letters of his experiences, I was particularly interested in what Faust had to say. I feel like I now have a fuller picture of his experience of this horrible war. I even wrote Faust a fan letter when I was done.
More from my Spring of literary misery. Nothing but depressing history lately. I picked this up at the library (actually I e-borrowed it for the Kindle, 'cause we live in the future!) because Drew Faust intrigues me. She is the first woman to be President of Harvard, and it struck me that historians seem to get these plumb administration jobs relatively frequently, and I wondered what was so great about her work that she goes from historian to Pres of Harvard. And this won the Bancroft so it's g ...more
This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust (the president of Harvard, and a woman, FYI) is a history of the Civil War period that focuses on the devastating death toll of the conflict and its effects on American culture of that time and since. The main threads of the discussion include attitudes of the Victorians towards a "good death," fashionable mourning, and the possibility of people simply disappearing; efforts to properly identify the staggering number of casualties and bodies and dis ...more
"This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" is a timely, well researched historical work about how North and South dealt with mass death during the American Civil War. Written by Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, the book engages with profound questions of how the American Civil War. It's a history of the American Civil War that is not focused on battles and commanders but on what could rightly be termed folk history, how individuals and a nation processed the signi ...more
Drew Gilpin Faust 's "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War" discusses death in the Civil War. It covers how society saw and dealt with death. The book starts at the pre-war traditions where death was often an intimate affair for the close friends and family. It progresses through how late war and postwar society saw and dealt with the Civil War''s stunningly huge numbers of dead, the impersonal manner of their deaths, and in the industrial way they were handled. The socie ...more
Tony duncan
May 22, 2009 Tony duncan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history, politics, and miscellaneous
a very interesting topic and for the most part well done. The author looks at how the civil war changed american consciousness about death, in pracitcal ways from how people grieved to economic ways, how it caused the budding practice of enbalming to take off, to administrative- how it caused the government to start to keep track and take care of it's soldiers, and not just officers, to the religious, whenre it made amass movement of the spiritual conception of death as just being a little blip ...more
Mary Rose
This book was recommended to me two years ago by my high school American History teacher, a confederate reenacter who is obsessed with bacon. That last part wasn't relevant, but it comes to mind. Anyway, I can see why he recommended it. While the book focuses very little on the actual battle history of the Civil War (you'd better have some idea what the significance of Appomattox and Gettysburg were before you pick it up), it gives an excellent history of the death culture surrounding the civil ...more
In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Faust presents an extensively researched, well-constructed look at the national reaction to the trauma of mass death and suffering in the immediate wake of the American Civil War. Published in 2008 and recently made into a PBS American Experience special, the book is a timely and poignant reminder of the human cost inherent in war.

The book is notable for what it is not. It largely serves as the antidote to that other PBS documentary: Ken Burns’ Civil War. Wher
Apr 20, 2008 S. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the death obsessed
This is the first book of academic non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. The author writes well and, since we’re all preoccupied with death, the topic is fascinating. Still, as much as I enjoyed it, I did find the book haunted by creeping academia, ie one has to be redundant to prove one’s thesis, and to push some points beyond their usefulness.

I did like what I learned about the role of newspapers at the time in helping people hunt information and report it. The part about the fashion of mourn
Amongst the hundreds of thousands of books written on the American Civil War, this one really stands out. Rather than a narrative or military history, Faust has written an incredibly moving, elegiac book about how the unimaginable scale of death during the Civil War fundamentally changed not just the mourners of the dead, but the nation as a whole. As he writes, "We still live in the world of death the Civil War created. We take for granted the obligation of the state to account for the lives it ...more
Sandra D
I've studied the Civil War pretty intensively in the past, but I came away from this book thinking, "Wow! I never thought about it like that before!" There were gory parts and sad parts and even some boring parts, but, on the whole, it was very well done and I had to give it five stars for the value of the perspective I gained.

Each chapter covers a specific topic: Dying, Killing, Burying, Naming, Realizing, Believing and Doubting, Accounting, and Numbering. I think the chapter that moved me most
This book looks at the culture of death and change that took place as a result of the civil war. Looked at the Good Death which meant dying in faith that one was to go to heaven and meet and await for others. Looked at the impact of thousands of death at once and the challenge of burying and remembering. Examined the resources available to the Union and such responsiblities taken on by the government vs the South whose efforts were led by civilians and largely Ladies leagues. Looked at how polit ...more
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Untold Stories 1 18 Dec 28, 2008 05:27PM  
  • Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
  • This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
  • The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans
  • Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South
  • What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War
  • Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
  • Mary Chesnut's Civil War
  • Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
  • A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration
  • In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America, 1859-1864
  • A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War
  • Vicksburg, 1863
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakening
  • Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
  • America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation
  • Glory Road
  • The State of Jones
  • General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse
Catherine Drew Gilpin Faust is an American historian, college administrator, and the president of Harvard University
More about Drew Gilpin Faust...
Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830--1860 Southern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War A Sacred Circle: Dilemma of the Intellectual in the Old South, 1840-1860

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“Look to the past to help create the future. Look to science and to poetry. Combine innovation and interpretation. We need the best of both. And it is universities that best provide them.” 6 likes
“Richmond's Mrs. William McFarland. "Let us remember that we belong to that sex which was last at the cross, first at the grave…Let us go now, hand in hand, to the graves of our country’s sons, and as we go let our energies be aroused and our hearts be thrilled by this thought: It is the least thing we can do for our soldiers.” 1 likes
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