The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff

thewitchesThis is a big. well-researched, informative book about a topic that interests me greatly, but it took me quite a while to get through. This may just have been the author’s style — it’s informative and engaging, but has some quirks which took me a bit of getting used to. Foremost among these was the author’s habit of relating events that the Salem witches’ accusers reported, as if they had really happened. This does allow the reader to enter imaginatively into the experience of people who seem to have genuinely believed that they flew through the air or fought invisible enemies, but it is a bit jarring for the skeptical modern reader to see these events portrayed in a work of non-fiction as if they had really occurred just as reported.

It’s clear this is a device Schiff is using and that she does have a proper level of skepticism and detachment from the events she’s describing, but she spends far more time reporting what happened than analyzing why it happened. Readers looking for theories about what was really going on in Salem in 1692 may be underwhelmed, but if you want a thorough portrayal of what happened, this is certainly a tome worth wrestling with.

 

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