The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War

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Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
6.3 X 1.4 X 9.5 inches | 1.9 pounds

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About the Author

Aaron Sheehan-Dean is the Fred C. Frey Professor of Southern Studies at Louisiana State University and the chairman of the History Department. He teaches courses on nineteenth-century US history, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and Southern History. He is the author of The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War (2018), Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (2007), Concise Historical Atlas of the US Civil War (2008), and is the editor of several books.


Sweeping and yet also delicately measured, this book promises to resolve longstanding debates about the nature of the Civil War. With its publication, we should be able to put aside old debates about total war or hard war and instead seek to understand the forces that produced a war that could at once seem hard and soft, unbridled and constrained. A work of deep intellectual seriousness.--Gregory P. Downs, author of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War
The Calculus of Violence is the rare work that compels us to reconsider the Civil War by embracing the history of the conflict in all its complexity.--Wayne Hsieh, coauthor of A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War
Confronting some of the most persistent and contentious arguments over the American Civil War, Aaron Sheehan-Dean offers a remarkable breadth of vision and depth of humanity. His unflinching account separates myth from truth, hyperbole from honesty. It is a brave, welcome, and necessary book.--Edward L. Ayers, author of The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America
Assessing the potential for the escalation of violence in the course of the war, Sheehan-Dean concludes that at many junctures both North and South 'chose restraint'; he rejects the widespread argument that the conflict evolved from limited to total war... For Sheehan-Dean, exceptions to this pattern prove the rule and illustrate his contention that the conflict 'could have been much worse.'--Drew Gilpin Faust"Wall Street Journal" (12/07/2018)
Sheehan-Dean has written a remarkable book, with a fresh take on how the Civil War was fought, why it was fought the way it was fought, and how, theoretically, it could have become a much more violent conflict than it was, had each side not been bent on presenting themselves as taking the moral high ground in an effort to curtail any great escalation in violence.--Michael Pierce"Midwest Rewind" (01/13/2019)
Perhaps the best thing this reviewer has read about the Civil War in ages. An expertly researched and written history, it examines the dark side of the American Civil War, namely war against civilians, partisan/guerrilla war, and the nasty issues that developed about prisoners of war on both sides.-- (03/01/2019)