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The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

The Witches does a remarkable job of transporting the reader back to 17th century Salem. It was a time almost 100 years before the birth of our country, when, we are told, the entire population of New England could have fit into Yankee Stadium. Settlers were fighting for scarce resources (firewood), kidnapping and scalping by native tribes was a real threat, the religious extremism of the colony imposed draconian personal rules, and 1692 had seen years without a governmental charter. From our perspective, these people just seemed to go crazy. But Schiff helps us understand how that could happen - how a few manipulative (or evil, or power hungry, or, ok, just crazy) people's actions can spiral out of control. But also how the initial accusations might not have sounded impossible; narrated as fact, as it would have been in the courtroom, we can almost suspend disbelief of a flying broomstick. It's a neat trick. There are a dizzying number of characters and accusations in the scandal as just about everyone in the area was implicated or "afflicted." Yet by the end, my only complaint was that I still wanted more of Schiff's immersive tale and accompanying insights.

— Sara, Atlanta


Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials. 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 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 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.

About the Author

Stacy Schiff is the author of Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Cleopatra: A Life, a #1 bestseller and winner of the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for biography; Saint-Exupery, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as an Academy Award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in New York City.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780316200592
ISBN-10: 031620059X
Publisher: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Pages: 512
Language: English