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Shook over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0674806511 ISBN-10: 0674806514 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (October 10, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674806514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674806511
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,739,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Eric T. Dean Jr., a lawyer whose interest in the Civil War prompted him to return to school to obtain a Ph.D. in history, makes a unique contribution to Civil War studies with his research on the psychological effects of the war on its veterans. Digging through the pension records of Civil War vets, Dean documents the great number who, suffering from severe psychological problems triggered by intense combat experience, were dutifully provided with disability pensions by the U.S. government. Dean's central thesis--that these veterans provide a mirror for the experiences of their counterparts in Vietnam a century later--is supported with lucid reasoning. Of particular interest are the many stories of intense Civil War combat and its psychological aftereffects, including many cases of Civil War veterans committed to asylums well into the 1890s--case studies seldom found in standard histories which offer painful testimony to the war's enormous impact on the nation. --Robert McNamara

Review

Shook Over Hell is genuinely revisionist on two fronts: it changes our understanding of psychiatric casualties in both the Vietnam War and the Civil War; and it does so not by sleight of hand, redefining terms while leaving the substance unchanged, but by solid research, sound analysis, and lucid...writing. Eric Dean first challenges the myth of the troubled and scorned Vietnam veteran...[He] convincingly demolishes every part of this myth. Citing numerous surveys and studies, he demonstrates that in the 1970s and 1980s Vietnam veterans had higher median incomes than their nonveteran peers and were unemployed at the same rate, had similar rates of drug use and addiction, and, in percentage terms, used more GI Bill benefits to attend college than had veterans of the Second World War...The core of this book is an application of the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder concept to Civil War soldiers. Part of the myth of the scorned and troubled Vietnam veteran is the implied contrast between his postwar treatment by a hostile or indifferent society and the hero's welcome given veterans of other wars. Although many studies of Civil War soldiers have appeared in recent years, they have focused mainly on the wartime experiences of these men; their postwar history has been relatively neglected...Dean's research in Civil War letters and memoirs, postwar newspapers, and pension files was thorough and exhaustive. It has yielded more information about the mental health of Union veterans than historians had previously realized was available...The most original and important feature of this book is Dean's analysis of 291 case studies of Civil War veterans committed to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane. Most of them exhibited symptoms that would today be diagnosed as PTSD...Of this book it can truly be said, as it is all too often falsely said of other historical studies, that it breaks new ground.
--James M. McPherson (The Atlantic)

Eric Dean's case studies of hundreds of veterans of the American Civil War committed to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane succeeds in adding to the understanding of the mental and social problems of many veterans of the Vietnam War, diagnosed as suffering from PTSD. The findings of Dean's scholarly research enrich our knowledge both of the Civil War and of American military history. Its comparative approach also lends it a welcome practical usefulness.
--George Bull (International Minds)

A thoughtful and thought-provoking study of Civil War and Vietnam War veterans--and of the mental and emotional problems that unite them...What [Dean] has done--with careful and well-documented research, sensitively analyzed--is to reveal 'a wide range of psychological and social problems that have not heretofore been associated with the Civil War veteran.'
--Michael Kenney (Boston Globe)

Overall, Dean uncovered incontrovertible evidence that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was much more common among Civil War veterans than scholars previously reckoned. Concurrently, he set out to prove that, while very real, PTSD's incidence among Vietnam vets often has been greatly exaggerated...and to prove what a number of scholars already were suspecting--that PTSD always has existed in war. In doing so, he also helped rehabilitate the image of Vietnam vets.
--Abe Aamidor (Indianapolis News)

[This is] an important book which deserves careful and unbiased consideration. Well researched and documented, it challenges as fundamentally incorrect a number of popular beliefs about the combat experiences and postwar fates of American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War...Questioning the uniqueness of both the combat experiences of those who served in Vietnam and the war-induced psychological syndrome suffered by, as conventional wisdom has it, exceptionally large numbers of that war's veterans, Eric T. Dean, Jr. argues that their problems have been largely overstated and exaggerated by several interest groups involved in ongoing debates on the Vietnam war...[Dean's] impassioned but lucid discussion in subsequent chapters of what distressed Civil War soldiers had to go through on the battlefield, in field hospitals, in asylums and in civilian life after the war leads to reversing the perspective from which he reexamines the Civil War veteran, so that, in the end, our attention shifts back to the Vietnam veteran again, but now he is seen in a complex and rich context of diverse factors which not only invite a reevaluation of his claim to be 'a uniquely troubled and scorned individual in American history,' but, more importantly, challenge many orthodox views about America's two most controversial wars. Highly recommended.
--Jerzy Kutnik (American Studies in Europe)

It is difficult for this reviewer, as a psychiatrist and historian, to overstate his enthusiasm upon learning of Eric Dean's account of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veteran populations from both the American Civil War and Vietnam War in Shook Over Hell. Until this work was published, there certainly existed a common misperception that Vietnam veterans were a unique group of emotional cripples, suffering a markedly exaggerated rate of psychiatric disability in comparison with veterans of 'popular' wars in the country's collective history. This perception makes for tidy journalism, but as Dean shows, it is largely fantasy. In the 1860s, not only did doubts and dissent exist in America, but the experience of the common soldier of that era in facing death and destruction does not appear at all different from that of later generations...In all, this work fills a void in Civil War history and serves as a fascinating bridge to a more recent epoch in American history that at first glance would seem to have little in common with this earlier days, but is perhaps all too similar.
--John S. Carbone (North Carolina Historical Review)

An informative and readable book about the psychological problems of U.S. Civil War and Vietnam soldiers. By comparing two widely separated wars, the author was able to identify important insights into the psychological health of all war veterans. He breaks new ground in our understanding of Civil War veterans in his analysis not only of individual accounts and medical reports, but also of the hospital records of 291 veterans who were committed to the Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis from 1861 to 1920...This book clearly demonstrates the value of scholarship and research to better understand the complicated subject of psychological trauma.
--Kenneth C. Hyarns (American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis)

This is an extremely important and thoughtful work, one which both impressed and saddened me...Dean begins by reviewing the commonly accepted psychiatric results of the Vietnam war. Popular beliefs blame veterans' deviant behaviors on the domestic opposition to the war, the quick demobilization that created a temporary unemployment problem, a supposed heroin epidemic, and the mixed reception veterans received when they returned. Suicides, homelessness, criminal activity, family violence, and the like led the mental health profession to discover PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), although the notion of combat causing severe neuropsychiatric diseases was hardly new; soldiers had suffered 'shell shock' in World War I and 'combat fatigue' in World War II...Dean has given us good reason to believe that Vietnam veterans were not unique in their reactions to the stress of war, and upon reflection it is surprising that many people ever thought otherwise...His attacks on the notion of PTSD should not be read as lack of sympathy for the Vietnam veteran, as a casual reader might conclude, but rather as a healthy skepticism of the way in which mental health professionals and their supporters sometimes go about their work.
--Richard E. Beringer, University of North Dakota (H-Net Review)

Dean does a very effective job of debunking the notion of the Vietnam War as somehow exceptional in the number and degree of its psychiatric casualties, demonstrates the political motives lying behind that thesis as well as the development of the concept of PTSD, and shows that the Civil War was not exceptional in its supposed lack of combat trauma and postwar neuroses growing out of the combat experience. In all these respects this book will make a major contribution, indeed is likely to have a strong impact on the field of both Vietnam and Civil War studies.
--James M. McPherson, Princeton University

Shook Over Hell ranges widely and includes sharp and brilliant discussions of the image of the American veteran of the Vietnam War, the history of military psychology, and the distinct nature of Civil War military service. Based on painstaking archival research in the records of mental institutions and in the service records of Civil War soldiers, this book will spark controversy and provoke thought and debate. It will inform and considerably revise our understanding of the military psychology of the Civil War, the Vietnam War, and American military history in general.
--Mark E. Neely, Jr., Saint Louis University

With the intersection of public events and private experience, a revisionist historical work like Eric Dean's Shook over Hell is more than timely. With meticulous attention to his primary sources…Dean tests popular wisdom about the figure of the traumatized Vietnam "vet" Dean's argument is challenging in a whole set of ways. (Journal of American Culture)

In this intriguing and well-written thesis, Dean argues convincingly that combat-related psychological and readjustment problems were common among Civil War combatants and thus challenges the popular view of the Vietnam veteran as unique among American patriots returning home as psychiatric casualties...This thought provoking and informative book would certainly appeal to readers interested in the history of military psychiatry and its relation to the sociopolitical climates of the Vietnam and Civil Wars.
--Mario Tommasi (Civil War News)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The author demonstrates convincingly that not only did the Civil War soldier suffer maladies hauntingly similar to Vietnam vets', but suggests, by extension, that these may be a consequence of war from time immemorial.
Dean, in his careful attempts to define and delineate the problem, notes that the character and dimensions of PTSD are not clear, and that there are powerful interests, with monetary incentives and ideological agendas, to encourage continued attention to, and perhaps promote, the problem. His research is impressive (Dean seems to have read everything ever written on the subject); his writing clear and compelling, and the flaws inconsequential. It might have been instructive to learn whether "McNamara's Hundred Thousand" (a cohort of draftees of low mental ability) are significantly represented in the prevalence of PTSD, and a formal bibliography would be useful, even though extensive source notes are provided. These are quibbles: Dean's work is highly recommended for anyone interested in the effects of war on the individual.

(The "score" rating is an ineradicable feature of the page. This reviewer does not "score" books.)
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Atheen M. Wilson on October 31, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been reading more about the Civil War over the past three years, and took a short survey course on the topic which first introduced me to Eric Dean's book Shook Over Hell, a discussion of post traumatic stress disorder during the Civil War. I found it a very interesting topic, particularly the discussion of the experiences of military surgeons and nurses. Having grown up with the TV series Mash, and being myself a nurse, I found the Civil War experiences surprising similar to those of the Mash staff, and even to some extent to my own in ICU (though of course the ICU is a more controlled environment, and I am not subjected to the same exhausting routines).
The character of the volume suggests the published form of a doctoral dissertation, and indeed Dr. Dean had only just received his doctorate in history from Yale when the book was published (1997). The fashion these days is very much toward introducing statistical methods into the social sciences in an effort to give them a "legitimacy" through quantization and to "extract" as much information from the data as possible. This is in an effort to put them on an "equal" footing with the "hard" sciences. Having done a statistical project myself in a social science (industrial relations) and having seen the effects of this fashion on my present profession, the practice of nursing, I usually find myself frankly unimpressed with the results. Fortunately the author limits his statistical manipulations of the data to the final chapters of the book, where he attempts, among other things, to determine whether the victims of post war psychological problems were characteristic of veterans of the war in general.
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1 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jerome Beck on May 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Written by a lawyer-historian this book is a review of statistics and anecdotes about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from past wars. The author concludes that the syndrome does not exist. This opinion resembles that of the current Bush administration in trying to eliminate veteran's benefits for this syndrome. The author's theory runs counter to most medical opinion.

The writer labels PTSD as a type of anxiety disorder and ignores the fact that whatever you call it it the disability has manifested itself in combat since the time of Homer. Its real and its victims need help.
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