Description from goodreads:
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.
This has been on my TBR since…2015? I think that’s the year it came out, and I was so excited for it. It took until last year for me to get it, and this year to read it, but it’s done. (This was my first pick for the last round of Tome Topple, even though it’s just under 500 pages at 498, but I’m not sweating 2 pages.)
My expectations for this book were really high. I went into it thinking it was going to be a fresh take, I was going to learn a lot, etc. And it kind of didn’t deliver, for me at least.
This one does give quite a bit of information, but if you’ve been studying the Salem trials your entire life, grabbing anything non-fiction about it you can find (books, TV specials, articles, etc.), you might not really need to read this.
I think the only thing I learned was true, that I’d known of before, was the way Cotton inserted himself into the narrative later. At least according to this book, and Schiff’s sources (I assume, because I am not taking the time to verify all her facts, and this one has an extensive bibliography and such), he wasn’t really around Salem for most of the madness. He made an appearance, or maybe a couple, but until a few years ago, I’d always assumed he was there through the whole thing. Or at least through most of it. Turns out, he just played it off like he had been, later.
So, other than that, I didn’t really gain much from this book. Sciff’s writing was great. It wasn’t too dry, or too relaxed, so it kept me engaged. (I also borrowed the audiobook from the library to listen to while I couldn’t sit and read, and the narrator–Eliza Foss–was also very nice.)
Sciff really did a great job with giving a comprehensive look at all the players, and I did get a little more background for a few of the people involved, but most of it was stuff I didn’t really care much about. It’s interesting, but, like I said, I went into this expecting something different. That’s probably entirely my fault.
My biggest complaint is that there is a lot of information here, but it’s kind of hard to follow unless you’re taking notes. There’s some jumping around that happens, and I had to keep referencing the handy guide at the front to remind myself who the people were that I wasn’t super familiar with, and what their role in all this drama was.
The opening chapter had me super excited, but then it kind of went downhill until closer to the end. It was just too much, and not enough. Too much detail about the day to day lives of Puritans, not enough about the accused and accusers. Basically, the Puritans were like, “My kid is being a brat! A witch must be to blame!”Or, just fill in the first part of that sentence with literally anything, because a witch was always to blame.
Wait wait wait! I just remembered something else!
The sky over New England was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location or that you might find yourself pursued after nightfall by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home, bloody and disoriented, on all fours. Indeed eyeglasses were rare in seventeenth-century Massachussetts. Hard cider was the drink of choice. Still, the thoughtful, devout, literate New Englander could, in the Salem courtroom, at times sound as if he were on a low-grade acid trip.page 8 of my hardcover edition, ISBN 9780316391009
So, I also learned, through quotes similar to the one above, that apparently the Puritans were getting their drank on pretty regularly. I think there’s a mention of there being a ton of taverns and the like, and other references to people imbibing.
This one, I wanted to love, but it was just okay. I think I expected some analysis or something from this tome, and there really wasn’t any, which was disappointing for me.
Basically, if you already know a ton about Salem and the trials, maybe pass on this one, unless you don’t mind reading about things you’re already familiar with. If you don’t know a lot about what went down, but you want to, definitely check this one out.
I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. (I rate books based on how much I liked them/how much I got out of them.) If I hadn’t known so much of this already, I probably would have given it 4 stars, though.