Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust is a book about the impact of death on American society during the Civil War. The book explores how death transformed society, culture, and politics in what became a broader republic of shared suffering.
The author describes how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God.
The main themes of the book are the assault on identity, the quest to recover it, and the work of death. The assault on identity is the fascinating theme Faust tackles as she digs into the archives for evidence of Americans’ experiences of death, including their own postwar efforts to unearth and rebury their soldiers.
The quest to recover identity is explored through the survivors’ practical management of death and their struggle to reconcile the carnage with their beliefs. The work of death is described as the duties of soldiers to fight, kill, and die, but at the same time invoking battle’s consequences: its slaughter, suffering, and devastation.
What I Liked
I love that this book exists. After reading it, I wondered why there aren’t more history books that focus on people’s actual experiences of the events rather than the events themselves. I assume that it’s incredibly hard to do history that digs into people’s experiences…but that’s exactly what makes this book so powerful.
What I Did Not Like
The book is a bit depressing, of course. There are parts that are pretty academic and dense. But it’s a good non-fiction book overall.