Review: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

Date Read: 17 May 2019
Published: 2015
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Pages: 417


The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterly on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent’s life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched–at a politically tumultuous time–on the edge of what a visitor termed a “remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness.” With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge; hidden pattern subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff’s riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled–in crackling detail and lyrical prose–by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Review (3.5 Stars):

I bought a copy of The Witches at Barnes and Noble off the bargain table. It had a lot of discussion moving around it so I was always intrigued to eventually sit down and read what the author had to say.

I think the reason why I am mostly disappointed with the book is because I was expecting more detail on the women and men being accused of witchcraft. We know how they died, but rarely do we hear the stories of the people and their families that were living there during the time. Instead, we get a detailed account of how they were imprisoned and what went on during the trials. Sometimes we even get an insight into the men who were sitting over the proceedings.

Don’t get me wrong, I thought the book was well researched, but having the familial and individual backgrounds would have brought the book to life rather than a textual overview of what happened. Given the fact that more people in modern times are seeing how women were treated in history, I would’ve thought the author would’ve played it up and shown the expectation of women in the Bay Colony and why they would choose to continue to point each other out as witches. There was some but not enough to flesh the actual people out.

For these reasons, I gave the book a 3.5 review.

*Book Cover Image Credit: Goodreads

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