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Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (UnCivil Wars Ser.) Paperback – May 15, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

An important new contribution to nineteenth-century cultural history, environmental history, Civil War history, and American studies scholarship. Among the book’s many strengths are its interdisciplinary approach, showing a sophisticated understanding of fields ranging from visual culture to gender studies to the history of science; a truly impressive base of archival research; a very clear writing style; and a subtle suggestion of the topic’s present-day resonance and relevance.

(Aaron Sachs author of The Humboldt Current: Nineteenth-Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism)

Nelson brings a truly original set of problems and questions to a thoroughly canvassed period of U.S. history. Engaging, deeply researched, and lucidly and fluently written, her book is bound to interest scholars and a broader readership alike.

(Karen Halttunen author of Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination)

Megan Kate Nelson has found a fresh way to consider the destruction caused by the Civil War. In often compelling prose, she uses the idea of ruins to consider how we construct meaning from chaos and loss. Through this concept she explores the scars left by combat on not only objects like homes but also on people, such as amputees. In the symbolism of ruins, she finds the intersection of how we cope with what war destroys and what it creates. The book is an intriguing application of cultural analysis to one of the centerpieces of our national narrative.

(William Blair Director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center, Pennsylvania State University)

An interesting read for those interested in the effects of the war on civilians [as] well as soldiers, and its longer term influence on society.

(NYMAS Reviews)

Nelson’s compelling argument is a great addition to the narrative on the American Civil War, and the impressive research upon which she bases her writing lends significant clout to her well-written and structured work. . . . Nelson’s work presents a fresh set of questions from which scholars can pursue future inquiries.

(Mike Sanders Southern Historian)

Ruin Nation is original, sophisticated, and persuasive, giving us a new lens through which we can focus our attention on significant aspects of the Civil War that we have never seen with such clarity. It should be read, and reread, by anyone hoping to understand what the war did to America, as opposed to what it did for it; what ruination meant to those who lived through it; and how it influenced the ways in which Americans since have viewed the central moment in our history.

(J. Tracy Power Civil War Book Review)

In her masterfully written and well-documented study of Civil War ruins, Megan Kate Nelson brings into high relief the tension between what the war destroyed and what it created. . . . Ruin Nation is an illuminating and engaging study of how Americans processed the devastation wrought by a bloody and destructive war.

(Victoria E. Ott Register of the Kentucky Historical Society)

Nelson effectively entwines cultural, gender, environmental, and military history in order to offer a unique perspective on war’s destructiveness.

(Lorien Foote Arkansas Historical Review)

About the Author

Megan Kate Nelson is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University. She is the author of "Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp" (Georgia).
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Product Details

  • Series: UnCivil Wars Ser.
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820342513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820342511
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #482,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
According to the Civil War Trust, the ACW cost 625,000 lives (some estimates are significantly higher) – nearly as many American soldiers as died in all the other wars in which this country has fought combined – and was the largest and most destructive conflict in the Western world between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the onset of World War I in 1914. Ms. Nelson goes into detail.

Megan Kate Nelson is a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University. She is the author of Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp. What she presents here is a panoramic view of the extent of the Civil War’s ruination and its effect on us as a people.

The ACW was not just a political upheaval. It was a social, environmental, and social upheaval of the first order, as well. Its violent nature not only took hundreds of thousands of lives – almost 2% of the total 1860 resident population of some 31,443,000 (US Census Bureau) – and many, many more wounded (many grievously and long lastingly), its devastation extended to cities and villages, industrial and transportation infrastructure, farms and livestock, fields and forests and waterways, and, most importantly, peoples’ sense of themselves – their realities, relationships, aspirations, and futures.

The war, particularly in the South, touched everyone. It was a shared experience, yet “Americans read the ruins in different ways depending on who they were, where they lived, the type of object destroyed, the moment in time, and who had done the destroying.” Ms. Nelson elaborates: “Nevertheless, northerners and southerners reacted in similar or even identical ways to wartime ruination.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Meticulous scholarship, well written. An artful and captivating blend of first-hand narrative and the author's in-depth analysis. A contribution to the historical literature and great read.
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Format: Paperback
From the review on StrategyPage.Com:

"Primarily a cultural, environmental, and literary historian, Dr. Nelson (Harvard) is also the author of Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp.

"In Ruin Nation she uses letters, diaries, and images created by the people of the times to provide insights not only into their individual understanding of what was happening to them and their world, but also to examine how their experiences, suffering, and interpretations of these have been transmitted to us, often in highly sanitized or politicized fashion.

"Although, as is often the case when non-specialists deal with military history, there are occasional errors in terminology, this work takes an important look at the effects of war."

For the balance of the review, see StrategyPage.Com
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very interesting perspective of the Civil War.
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Format: Paperback
Ms. Nelson's book is a much-needed reminder of the costs of war, in general, and of the huge and tragic effects of the American Civil War. Among its many strengths, the book provides a compelling look at the destruction of Columbia, South Carolina by troops under General William T. Sherman (and thus showed how he lied in disclaiming that he and they were mainly responsible). The author also describes the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which was in retaliation for the depredations of Union General David Hunter in the Shenandoah Valley. It could be said that she let General Phil Sheridan off easy, but with so much ruin across the nation, many incidents would have to be omitted due to constraints of space. This is a work for everyone interested in the Civil War, in our country's history, or in the terrible impact of wars on people and places.
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