Book Review: Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War


by Megan Kate Nelson

Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2012. Pp. xvii, 332. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 0820342513

While the destruction wrought by armed conflict is always mentioned in accounts of wars, it is not usually the primary focus of attention.  This is not the case with Ruin Nation, a volume in the University of Georgia Press series “Uncivil Wars”, which takes a look at the cultural and social effects of the destruction engendered by the Civil War on contemporary economic, cultural, and social institutions and norms, as well as on the physical environment, and, of course, on the people. 

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

An valuable read for those interested in the effects of the war on civilians and well as soldiers, and its longer term influence on society.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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