The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra, the #1 national bestseller, unpacks the mystery of the Salem Witch Trials.
It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.
The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.
As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, The Witches is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story -- the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
You may think you know all about the infamous Salem witch trials, but after just a few atmospheric, meticulously researched pages of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff’s book, you’ll realize you’ve been kidding yourself. The Witches is a lyrical and absolutely riveting portrait of one of early America’s darkest chapters. We were wowed by Schiff’s discovery of so many haunting new details about a seemingly typical Puritan community that collapsed spectacularly in the face of abject fear, paranoid allegations, and unchecked religious fervor.
Pulitzer-winner Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life) applies her descriptive prowess and flair for the dramatic to the Salem witch trials. The book is packed with details and delivered with a punch, but it suffers from a dearth of nuance. Schiff's passionate use of the active tense places the reader right in the midst of the action, about 15 miles north of Boston during the spring of 1692. However, this laudable effort also causes some confusion over place and time, and it's hard to distinguish the facts from Schiff's imaginative attempts at turning the trial reports into narrative action. There are disorienting shifts between passages in which the reader is immersed in the spooky, supposedly magical environment of Salem, and more prosaic sections describing what actually happened in the trials and town. Schiff provides background context for the events and focuses on the action, but her efforts to apply an overarching fairy tale theme miss their mark, and she avoids deep cultural, historical, and societal analyses of the trials. This retelling succeeds as a work of gripping popular nonfiction, but for those already familiar with the subject, it will serve only as light reading.
Ms. Schiff first promises a new look, but delivers a thematically disorganized mess. Just as she reveals an interesting perspective, she then peals off inane details about minor characters in a pattern impossible to follow. She never begins a sentence without a long introductory clause to hide the true import of her sentence. The tedium drolls on until I cried, "no mas!" A rare book I didn't finish.
Too bad this book wasn’t what I expected. Instead of the well researched point of view from a female perspective that the first few pages promised, the book morphed into a jumbled, confusing mess.
Thoughtfully researched and beautiful prose to describe a fearful and shameful religious period of America.