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The Salem Witch Trials were such a weird/fascinating/horrifying event in American history, so I had high hopes for a book about them by an acclaimed non-fiction author. And while I enjoyed this, I didn’t love it like I was hoping to. There are so many individual people involved in this series of events, and the author tells many of their stories, justifiably, but at a certain point it almost felt like she had gone too far into the weeds and that we (the readers) had lost sight of the bigger picture as a result. Having said that, I think there are portions of this that are a really useful explanation of why and how this happened, and folks with an interest in early American history will likely want to check it out.
I'm really fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s and try to do as much research on the subject as possible. This ranges from Fiction to Non-fiction, and finding a good non-fiction account of this is hard.
My search continues as this was a slog to get through.
My main issue with this is the language and narrative flow. It reads more like an extended newspaper article than a book. The flow was much too choppy and I just couldn't get into the book.
It was interesting to get an in-depth account of what occurred in the 1690s surrounding the trails, but it wasn't enough to justify the length. I felt this book being more of a chore than a rewarding process.
Oh-me! Oh-my!.... Hello, darlings! - Let me tell ya - It must have been a living-hell being a citizen residing in Salem, Massachusetts back in 1692. There seemed to be so much finger-pointing and false accusations going on that I'm surprised most of the folks living there didn't high-tail out of that witch-hunting town of crazies and set up home-sweet-home somewhere else.
Even though nobody was burned at the stake..............
If you are at all interested in reading a very, very detailed account of what events led up to, what inevitably happened at, and the devastating aftermath of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, then, Stacy Schiff's well-researched book of these incidents-in-question is sure to be worth your undivided attention.
As Fuzzy_Wuzzy says (2 comments below) - The whole question was - "Which witch is which?"
The author of The Witches has two challenging tasks: to dig through the layers of legends and theories to find the truth, and to write an easily readable, popular book. It might be impossible to do both at once, but Stacy Schiff does her darnedest. Readers looking for a short, snappy book with a clear narrative and simple causes will be disappointed. The original sources are incomplete, conflicting, and biased; or they have been destroyed by descendants who did not want their family members seen in a bad light. Later generations have twisted the story this way and that, to suit the ideas of their times. (The latest is that the witch hunt was in fact a consciously promoted real estate conspiracy. No.) The Witches will give you enough information to come up with some ideas of your own.
Back in 1692 - (Amongst all of the chaos, mayhem, and vicious accusations going on in Salem at the time) - There's one question that I'd say must have been on the lips of all the god-fearing "Puritans" living there. And, that question would be - "Which witch is which?"
Even though author, Stacy Schiff's "The Witches" was on the decidedly lengthy side (at 498 pages) - I'd definitely say that this exhaustive, true-account narrative of the Salem witch trials was certainly an intriguing, in-depth look at a very horrific chapter in American history.
This terrifying "real-life" tale was certainly an eye-opening example of blind hysteria, rampant finger-pointing, and religious extremism to the max.
In regards to all of these inhuman witch hunts - I found that one of the most surprising aspects of it all was that these "Puritans" were not peasants - No - They were all very well-educated people - But their actions in this matter certainly said otherwise.
This book also includes 16 pages of historical photographs.
A informative fun read on what went on during 1692 Salem. Fun for the simple reason of how the first sentence starts the journey. "In 1692, the Massachusetts Bay colony tried fourteen women, five men and two dogs for witchcraft."
I was so impressed with Schiff's "Cleopatra" that I expected more from this book. It's just as well researched, and for the most part well written. However, even with the list of major characters at the beginning, it's very hard to keep track of who's who, and even the chronology. I have ancestors who, two years before this event, were massacred by the French and Indians in New York, with no mention, in a great deal of reading, about witchcraft. So one reason for reading it was to learn why Salem, also "infested" by French and Indians, became the setting for witchcraft. I didn't learn the answer--it wasn't Schiff's question. I do think her focus on the power manifested during these few months by women and young girls is a valid one. Not a single accusation was against a father or a son, though every other family or social relationship was the target of an accusation. Interestingly, those who accused didn't hang, but those who were accused. And the after effects lasted for generations, even to the present day tourism in Salem. The fact, not trivial, that Massachusetts had the highest literacy rate in the world in 1692, is relevant, as is the fact that the Puritans had very few books to choose among besides the Bible. We don't read the Bible as demonic, but they did. The other relevant fact is that the Puritans, like the Pilgrims, a very different group, left England for New England because of religious persecution. They believed they had to behave a certain way in order to create a successful society. When that began to fall apart, who were they going to blame?
Not a rip-roaring ride, Witches is still a well written and researched historical treatise. Beginning with a summary, Schiff then dedicates most of the book to the available resources, which is quite surprising how dense it is considering the sources are somewhat limited to court documents and personal diaries. What can be occasionally quite dry, but nonetheless very informative becomes far more interesting when you get to Schiff's concluding chapters where finally her own voice and interpretations are offered.
The sensationalized topic is misleading, we are dealing with Puritans here. It's not exciting but if you like history it's worth a read.
Interesting book, however, it is too lengthy; the chapters are way too long! Many details could have been omitted to avoid repetition. The book wouldn't be as thick as it is otherwise. Good depiction of history, but there were others that were accused of witchcraft. Ms. Schiff could have skipped some personal details that I would not care about, such as the wife beating. Another cause of the hysteria of the girls was not explored by the author. I fell asleep reading this book several times. Her book, Cleopatra was excellent - one to rave about.
Very tedious reading. There are interesting historical details, but it is way too wordy. It is hard to get through it, and the only reason I am completing the book is that it was a gift from a family member, so I feel the need to make it to the end.
I was looking forward to the book after reading the article in the New Yorker. I should have stayed with just reading the article.
The author apparently did a lot of research but the writing style is so bloated and poorly organized that it's hard to follow the story of what actually happened. Too much irrelevant contemporary commentary accompanied by bits and pieces of the story, which is too disjointed to follow. Wanted to read the history of this event, and now I'm off to find a better account of it.
Long, wordy, somewhat pretentious - the author obviously likes using unusual and unfamiliar words to the general population. Timeline was somewhat confusing - hard to keep everyone straight. Despite those criticisms, I did enjoy the book, but it was slow and somewhat tedious at times to get through.
I enjoyed reading this book! I learned quite a bit! It is a slow read but definitely worth it!
As a historian I think the author has created far too many generalities in trying to create the setting of what happened. Yes, you have to explain the setting, but you can't take a list of facts and spread them around as applying everywhere. This was a massive undertaking and the author made a valid attempt. If you are a die hard fan, than read this. If you just want an outline of what happened. Read elsewhere. In my Histology class we examined Salem and one historian noted that all of the accused lived in one area - an argument could be made that it was only political or that someone wanted their land.
I have read a great deal on the crisis as a decedent of a witch, and I didn't find much new in this volume. The author seems to have it in for the Mather family who's only involvement is as recognized ministers.
Otherwise not much new padded with a lot of psychobabble about the cause of the events. About 10% too long from repetition and general padding.
1,5 stars, ok if you only want a summary without much depth.
In 1692, 14 women, 5 men and 2 dogs were executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. It started in January of that year when two girls experienced strange symptoms, twitching and contorting with pain. In the course of 9 months, dozens of people were affected by this strange epidemic, and hundreds were accused of witchcraft. Daughters pointed fingers at mothers, neighbors implicated each other. A minister was accused of being a great wizard, the leader of the Salem witches. In all this commotion, the afflicted girls became visionaries and were consulted during the trials.
This non-fiction account is told in chronological order and is extremely well researched. The Witches is rich in historical and political details about life in New England at the end of the 17th century. Fending off attacks from Native Americans and the French, and dealing with an unforgiving climate and a new charter for their young country, the settlers didn’t have an easy life. A deeply religious people, they lived in fear of the devil. All the accounts of the period come from ministers or high-ranking officials, and it is a shame we don’t have the afflicted girls’ point of view, as Puritan women did not write diaries.
The book dispels misconceptions about Salem: witches were hanged, not burned, and women and men were accused, not just women. However, I found that The Witches is a little dry at times and that the author sometimes goes into too much detail. In addition, there is a huge cast of characters, and it can be daunting for the reader. Thankfully, the author provides a very helpful list of characters at the beginning of the book. On the whole though, The Witches is a fascinating account of an interesting period of Massachusetts history.
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Very interesting, detailed, and well-researched but I couldn't overlook the repetitiveness and lack of direction. I think it could've easily been 100 pages shorter. Read The Witches if you love to learn and don't mind more of an academic approach. It might be one to skip if you're more into fast-paced, narrative nonfiction.
Stacy Schiff writes an excellent history of the Salem witch trials in the mid 1600's. She pinpoints reasons why the fear of "witchcraft" seized the colony convincing a panicked, suspicious, oppressed community to report anyone's (brother, sister, mother, father) deviation from exercising the posture of the ideal Puritan-- leaving in their wake ingenuous victims to pick up the numbs of fractious allegations and destined to live a shattered life. Schiff does not leave the story in the 17th century, but pinpoints like instances throughout the following centuries, and how the injection of fear can control and manipulate others to one's own advantage.
At 400+ pages with a huge cast of characters, this is not a casual read. But it's worthwhile for anyone interested in the legal and political history of these events; there's less coverage of the social and economic aspects.
An interesting addition to the body of work on the witchcraft mania of so long ago and today.
Because today, witchcraft is big business in Salem more so than when this reviewer was growing up there.