Goodbye to the Good Death

This Republic of Suffering

Worth reading this winter: This Republic of Suffering (Knopf, 342pp) Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust’s study of the changing nature of death at the time of the U.S. Civil War, and the ways in which such changes in turn helped to transform Americans’ relationship with their government. A graf from my San Francisco Chronicle review:

The displacement of death from its natural family context worked a strange social and civic alchemy. Average citizens who had never known the deceased began to show up at Confederate funerals; “the emergence of this impersonal connection with the dead, one independent of any direct ties of kin or friendship, was a critical evolution in the understanding of war’s carnage,” writes Faust. A soldier’s death was no longer solely a private tragedy, and the dead no longer belonged exclusively to their families. They had become the nation’s dead, too.

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