The Witches

The Witches

Salem, 1692

Book - 2015
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"Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials... 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 masterfully 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 a colonial life emerge; hidden patterns 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"--
Publisher: London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion Books,, 2015
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9781474602259
Characteristics: xiv, 498 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (chiefly colour), portraits, facsimiles ; 25 cm.

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DorisWaggoner
Jan 04, 2017

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?

AL_LESLEY Nov 09, 2016

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.

s
sunnye1988
Nov 06, 2016

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.

a
alutrick
Jul 16, 2016

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.

p
patcarstensen
Jun 11, 2016

I was looking forward to the book after reading the article in the New Yorker. I should have stayed with just reading the article.

l
LinnieBee
Apr 18, 2016

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.

v
vinegargal
Apr 05, 2016

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.

6
6206dp
Mar 05, 2016

Wordy and confusing. Barely rescued by insightful witticisms.

Cynthia_N Feb 15, 2016

I enjoyed reading this book! I learned quite a bit! It is a slow read but definitely worth it!

whydoIhavetodothis Feb 09, 2016

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.

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