Joy in Suffering

The publication of Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering is having some interesting side effects.

For one thing, major papers are commissioning their own reviews of this Civil War title, not running the usual syndicated wire copy. (An aside: I don't see syndicated reviews out there yet - the Google search in News supplies only three pages of hits, all original pieces.)

Faust has another reason to smile: all the major reviews are friendly, with just a little stinging iodine being applied by Forbes. Mind you, these reviewers are shallow - recruited from the papers' culture beat it seems - and being on uncertain ground, they need to make nice. Nevertheless, goodwill sets the stage for more goodwill.

At the bottom of this Suffering trend is good news and bad news.

It is unusual to get this much attention focused on an ACW title - especially a deep one. It is amazing to have reached a place where masses of outsiders are engaging intellectually with challenging Civil War content instead of entertainment. Is it possible that publishers will seek more analytic Civil War nonfiction of this caliber? Yes, of course. This is the good news.

On the other hand, we have the beginnings of a template for Civil War publishing success that is social, not military. This could wind up being as warping in its effect on publishing as the success of Ken Burns, the movie "Gettysburg," or the pop-history compilation Battle Cry of Freedom was a generation ago. The maxim of doing what succeeds may grind us down again. But until the trend actually trends, let's be happy.

Here are the reviews so far:

Boston Globe - This is an omnibus review that also covers Neely's newest. The critic fails to connect Neely's debunking of "uniquely violent and bloody" with Faust's material.

Bloomberg - "This Republic of Suffering tells a story that most Civil War buffs, those who have read the standard works on the subject by Allan Nevins and James McPherson, among others, probably don't know, or don't appreciate."

Forbes - "Faust seems to get lost in the weeds at times..."

New York Sun - "Not until I read "This Republic of Suffering" ... did the full power of Whitman's poem become clear to me."

The Nation (Eric Foner) - "appalling harvest of death. In a nation of 31 million people, 620,000 died..."

Seattle Times - A non-judgemental, value-free recapitulation of what you'll need to say at the cocktail party.

Newsweek - Meandering, content-free and mercifully short..

SF Chronicle - A competent recapitualtion of the press release, done with an economy of effort.

Winchester Star - Interviews Faust's brother, a local, as much as talks about the book.

(First posting on Faust here.)