The best books that show how common citizens face the intertwinings of war, conscience, and religion

Evie Yoder Miller Author Of Shadows
By Evie Yoder Miller

Who am I?

The main reason I care about the relationship of war, conscience, and religion is because I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. A country’s methods of pursuing its best interests, include the use of power and warfare. Religions, however, make central: love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. People need to develop a conscience about what principle matters most. In the Civil War, the old tenet, an “eye for an eye,” was used to justify killing others for reasons of advantage or revenge. But I want to be involved instead in creating peace and justice for all.


I wrote...

Shadows

By Evie Yoder Miller,

Book cover of Shadows

What is my book about?

Shadows, the first book in my historical fiction series, offers fresh insight to understand the start of the American Civil War. Instead of focusing on battles, I give attention to five civilian narrators, living on opposite geographic sides of the national conflict. They tell of common citizens from Amish, Mennonite, and German Baptist communities of conscience who face army demands for men to join the cause. When men flee to avoid conscription, the farm women, left at home to fend with their children, see hungry soldiers helping themselves to grain and cattle. Attempts to live peacefully show courage but also drift into inconsistent religious practice. Are these people traitors or heroes? The conflicts inevitably build to more division and uncertainty among families, neighbors, and churches.

The books I picked & why

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America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation

By David Goldfield,

Book cover of America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation

Why this book?

America Aflame demonstrates how people’s religious views impacted the extended length and divisiveness of the American Civil War. Both sides in the conflict thought God was on their side; they had to keep on fighting. And yet, some Northern Christians condemned slavery for its inhumanity, while some Southerners extolled slavery for its social benefits. In my historical fiction trilogy, I also show the tensions between war’s destructive methods and the religious beliefs of common citizens who refuse to fight. David Goldfield’s storytelling style of non-fiction writing captured my attention, whether describing the tone of this bold new country, or parsing the dueling natures of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.

America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation

By David Goldfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America Aflame as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this spellbinding new history, David Goldfield offers the first
major new interpretation of the Civil War era since James M. McPherson's
Battle Cry of Freedom. Where past scholars have limned the war
as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America's greatest
failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical
religion into the public sphere. As the Second GreatAwakening surged
through America, political questions became matters of good and evil to
be fought to the death.

The price of that failure was horrific,
but the carnage accomplished what statesmen could not: It made the…


This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Book cover of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Why this book?

Death is everywhere in war: on the battlefield, in a disease-ridden hospital, or in childbirth on the home front. Drew Gilpin Faust’s non-fiction book, This Republic of Suffering, brings eye-popping numeric data to the prevalence of death in war. But she never stops at the surface level of how many deaths, or how many unidentified soldiers or improper burials occur during the Civil War. I was caught up entirely as Faust’s words, riveting and respectful of all the pain and loss, showed how death became an ennobling transformation for many people, either in the cause of racial standing or of Union/secessionist preservation.

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

By Drew Gilpin Faust,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked This Republic of Suffering as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • An "extraordinary ... profoundly moving" history (The New York Times Book Review) of the American Civil War that reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation.

More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust describes how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief…


Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier,

Book cover of Cold Mountain

Why this book?

The classic Civil War novel, Cold Mountain, is a beautiful but harrowing account of lives mangled in the crucible of war. I walked in the shoes of Inman, a soldier, going back to his home and sweetheart. He carries a serious wound in his neck but deeper damage to his conscience due to the violent acts that the war has compelled him to commit. His true love at home, Ada, has also been stripped bare by the war but is rebuilding her life with the help of Ruby, a brave waif who teaches Ada practical skills. From this book I recognize anew that war inflicts psychic scars on everyone. For these characters, the natural world brings solace and helps all, including the reader, to move beyond pain toward human redemption.

Cold Mountain

By Charles Frazier,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1997, Charles Frazier’s debut novel Cold Mountain made publishing history when it sailed to the top of The New York Times best-seller list for sixty-one weeks, won numerous literary awards, including the National Book Award, and went on to sell over three million copies. Now, the beloved American epic returns, reissued by Grove Press to coincide with the publication of Frazier’s eagerly-anticipated second novel, Thirteen Moons. Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves.…


The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Why this book?

Sue Monk Kidd’s book, The Invention of Wings, blends fact and fiction in this pre-Civil War story of two young women. I was fascinated by reading chapters that alternated between Sarah Grimke, a historical character, representing South Carolina’s aristocracy and Hetty, called “Handful,” who is given as an enslaved maid to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. Sarah’s conscience won’t allow this division to endure. I loved the memorable scene where the two girls escape through a hatch in the roof to drink tea and tell each other secrets. For me, this image of flight in a shared hope for independence and voice, illustrates the heart of this novel. Organized religion fails both women; instead, spiritual comfort comes for Handful in the story-filled quilt that she attempts to complete.  

The Invention of Wings

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Invention of Wings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees and the forthcoming novel The Book of Longings, a novel about two unforgettable American women.

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something…


Saints and Villains

By Denise Giardina,

Book cover of Saints and Villains

Why this book?

The historical figure, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is a striking exemplar of courage in response to the atrocities of World War II. Denise Giardina’s historical fiction book, Saints and Villains, portrays the interplay of Bonhoeffer’s moral values as a Nazi resister and as a German theologian. Factually, Bonhoeffer could have fled from the horrors of war, but he chose not to do so and ended up involved in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. I don’t think of Bonhoeffer’s characterization as a model of virtue, but I rooted for his ordinariness, his questions, and doubts that made him morally complex. My own writing benefited from reading this book that focused on fictionalizing a complicated historical figure.

Saints and Villains

By Denise Giardina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Saints and Villains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is the price of acting morally in a time of great evil, when sin and necessity seem twinned? Saints and Villains is a strikingly resonant novel that dramatizes this painful dilemma through the fictional re-creation of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This emblematic figure risked his life--and finally lost it--through his participation in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler and topple the Nazi regime. In a gripping and sweeping narrative that moves from Berlin to London to New York City, encompassing shattering historical events, clandestine meetings, perilous missions abroad, and eventual imprisonments and death, Denise Giardina brings to life…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the American Civil War, good and evil, and North Carolina?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the American Civil War, good and evil, and North Carolina.

The American Civil War Explore 231 books about the American Civil War
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