Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” as Want to Read:
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  6,330 ratings  ·  653 reviews
An illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War. During the war, approximately 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. This Republic of Suffering explores the impact of this enormous death toll from e ...more
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about This Republic of Suffering, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about This Republic of Suffering

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,330 ratings  ·  653 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
"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
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Faust examines all aspects of death in the American Civil War in this unique, insightful topical history. Foregoing the usual discussions of battles and tactics she focuses on personal values and culture taking us into the minds of 1860s Americans. This book is replete with personal experiences and observations of soldiers and their families. The war’s impact ends quickly for soldiers killed in action but lingers for lifetimes for surviving loved ones. Their faith in religion and country is chal ...more
robin friedman
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Civil War And The Harvest Of Death

Most books on the American Civil War can be grouped into one of two categories. The first category consists of studies of the military history of the conflict, frequently focusing on individual battles or campaigns. The second category focuses on the political aspects of the conflict with much recent literature centered upon Emancipation and with the long delay following the Civil War in securing civil rights for the former slaves.

Drew Gilpin Faust's "This R
Montzalee Wittmann
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust is an eye-opening, informative, and sober look at life up close and personal. When I thought of the Civil War I had never really thought of all the details of what it would be like other than tv shows. This book takes you down and dirty on the death and suffering of the dead and dying but those around those men. There are problems I would have never thought of. Heartbreaking, informative, and I cried at times for t ...more
Jun 15, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Colleen Browne
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in American history- or anyone who wants to know how many of our traditions grew out of the Civil War. The book also gives a good summary of how the role of government began to evolve in the latter half of the 19th Century. The enormity of the Civil War is probably the point in our history where the American people began to see the necessity of a strong central government. Previous to the Civil War, there were no national cemetaries, ...more
Staggering. An exceptional book of scholarly research on death and the Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust, the author, won multiple awards following its release in 2008.

I found the chapters on burying and accounting to be the most insightful. How I could have read all of the seminal works on the Civil War and not have known any of this detail?

I also found the fifteen pages on Ambrose Bierce to be so intriguing. Bierce’s writings, including ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, began the modern war li
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, war, non-fiction
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
“It is hard,” he wrote, “to realize the meaning of the figures…It is easy to imagine one man killed; or ten men killed; or, perhaps, a score of men killed…but even…[the veteran] is unable to comprehend the dire meaning of the one hundred thousand, whose every unit represents a soldier’s bloody grave. The figures are too large.”

The way this book is broken down, from Dying versus Killing, to Naming of those lost, sections off different aspects of the war, and the impact it had not only
Nov 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
While the sub-title of the book indicates the focus on the Civil War, much of what Faust illustates can be applied to how cheaply we seem to hold life these days. And no, I'm not talking soley about inner city violence, but mass shootings, terrorist attacks. You name it. Because, the book is about how society's view to death changed radically during the Civil War.

Faust's book is divided into chapters, each named with a facet of death. She details the original view of death in the society of the
Jun 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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,
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good overview of a neglected aspect of the war, this book focuses on the Civil War dead. The author explains the aspects of what was considered a "good death" during the conflict. We also learn of efforts to identify and rebury the dead during and after the fighting. Overall although the book isn't very uplifting, it fills a gap in Civil War literature. While the writing was a bit nuanced, the book was very readable but might only spark the interest of dedicated Civil War buffs. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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
James Murphy
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've discovered in my advanced years that I'm relatively picky about the non-fiction I read: if I'm going to spend my highly prized free time with a book about real life, it's got to be worth the effort. And This Republic of Suffering was that, for me.

The Civil War killed an estimated 620,000 people—more, as Faust points out, than the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II combined. But the thing about that number is that it's
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
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
Steven Peterson
Sep 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Frank Stein
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
Michael Kuehn
Jun 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust [2008]

“The sheer number of bodies requiring disposal after a Shiloh, an Antietam, or a Gettysburg defied both administrative imagination and logistical capacity, for each death posed a pressing and grimly pragmatic problem: What should be done with the body?”

We read about the engagements, legendary battles – Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Bull Run, Gettysburg, the Wilderness – we study the grand strategies, the
Feb 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non-fiction
This gem took me longer than the actual Civil War to see through to fruition. This is no fault of Faust, the author, who has densely researched this magnifying glass on all aspects of death in the Civil War. Dying, in fact, is the first chapter, explaining that executions were more frequent in the Civil War than in any American conflict before or since. The death of the American soldier did not always fall victim to the enemy's bullet. Disease ran its course and killed thousands. But the war pre ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really wanted to give this 5 stars. It's an exceptionally strong look at how America dealt with death on scale it had never seen before. Faust does a wonderful job of exploring the need for a "good death" and how that influenced countless tales and remembrances of dying soldiers. How the need to make themselves right with God, dispense some wisdom for their family, and utter some remembered final words became almost a template for the dying.

The scale of the carnage soon outstripped the society
Katherine Addison
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 19th-century
This is a book about how the Civil War changed the way Americans dealt with death, both on the spiritual level and the intensely practical level of, we have all these dead bodies. What do we do with them? I found her most interesting when talking about the practicalities of burials (and reburials) and identifications and the way in which the modern armed forces ethos of bringing all soldiers home was born because of the problems created by this massive wall of death across the early 1860s, where ...more
Audrey Paschke
Nov 07, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Never thought a history book would have me sobbing uncontrollably at the first chapter omg. “when a young man on the verge of death mistook the nurse for his sister Mary. Unable to bring herself to actually address him as brother, she nevertheless kissed his forehead so that as she explained, ‘the act had done falsehood the lips refused to speak.’”
David McLemore
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Two topics I'd like to read more about are the American Civil War and the Vietnam War. But I really wasn't in the mood to tackle a 700+ page monster of a book on either. So I came across the fairly slim This Republic of Suffering and decided to give it a go. I don't think we're really taught about the American Civil War here (at least not in detail; I wasn't), so I was hoping I wouldn't get lost reading this, but thankfully that wasn't the case.

This book is not a military history of the war in a

« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam
  • The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South
  • Gettysburg
  • Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory
  • Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
  • Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War
  • Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
  • Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South
  • The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America
  • The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
  • Battle Cry of Freedom
  • The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
  • Gettysburg: The Last Invasion
  • Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market
  • Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World
  • The Smoke at Dawn (Civil War: 1861-1865, Western Theater, #3)
  • Robert E. Lee: A Life
  • The Howling Storm: Weather, Climate, and the American Civil War
See similar books…
Catherine Drew Gilpin Faust is an American historian, college administrator, and the president of Harvard University

Related Articles

For those with a taste for nonfiction—or even just a curiosity about what’s out there—we’ve gathered below the most popular nonfiction titles...
46 likes · 34 comments
“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.” 9 likes
“Yankee private Henry Struble was not only listed as a casualty after Antietam but assigned a grave after his canteen was found in the hands of a dead man he had stopped to help. After the war ended, Struble sent flowers every Memorial Day to decorate his own grave, to honor the unknown soldier it sheltered and perhaps to acknowledge that there but for God’s grace he might lie.” 4 likes
More quotes…