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The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

The Witches: Salem, 1692

by Stacy Schiff

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Pulls it out in the last hour and a half with actual analysis, because the entire rest of the book I was just going, "Whyyyyyyyy?" ( )
  Dez.dono | Aug 8, 2017 |
Ugh. Long and slogging. Schiff reports every single instance of the years leading up to and following the Salem Witch Trials to the point of being tediously redundant. ( )
  benuathanasia | Jul 21, 2017 |
A story of superstition, of piety, of unanswerable questions, the Salem witch trials of 1692 have long enthralled us. It may be difficult to believe that anything original could be published regarding these events over three hundred years after they took place, however, Schiff easily refutes this in her comprehensive dissection of one of the darkest periods of American history. Concerning not just the infamous witch trials and subsequent hangings but also the basic tenets of Puritanism, the politics of colonial Massachusetts, and the hardships of life in rural New England, The Witches is a substantial historical narrative. Not recommended for the casual reader, a narrative of this magnitude is intimidating at times with its sheer volume of details and footnotes, but is well worth the investment. Chock full of captivating anecdotes, Schiff's text is as witty as it is informative, deconstructing with finesse the courtroom blunders, neighborhood grudges and betrayals, and supernatural and folkloric conspiracies that plagued the trials of 1692. Split into "acts", the narrative progresses from a systematic introduction of characters and background on the political and social climate early in the year, leading to a turning point in the trials in early summer when outside authority is brought in and the situation escalates, the jails filled to bursting with the accused. The final act is marked by a culmination of the witch trials as the summer progressed into fall and the fine line of Puritanism between religious entreaty through prayer and witchcraft grew even more convoluted and skeptics of the debacle became the easiest targets. The gravity lies not only in the deaths of the accused by hanging, but also those who perished in prison and families destroyed by the shame of witchcraft accusations. Schiff's asides and village tales can be lengthy and difficult to follow at times, meandering as they are, yet for readers seeking the complete picture they are essential and do not detract from the overall impact of the text. In closing, The Witches offers a succinct explanation of what the author believes truly ailed the bewitched girls of Salem and why a mere year of distant American history continues to haunt and fascinate. ( )
  GennaC | May 9, 2017 |
Stacy Schiff writes and excellent history of the Salem Witch Trials in the mid 1600's. She pinpoints reason why the fear of "witchcraft" seized the colony convincing a panicked, suspicious oppressed community to report anyone's (brother, sister, mother, father) deviation from exercising the posture of the ideal Puritan--leaving in their wake ingenuous victims to pick up the numbs of frac5ious allegations and destined to live a shattered life. Schiff does not leave the story in the 17th century, but pinpoints like instances throughout the following centuries, and how the injection of fear can control and manipulate others to one's own advantage. ( )
  Elisabethleigh | Apr 1, 2017 |
20% into this it feels like a rambling record of the events. ( )
  kakadoo202 | Jan 29, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
These are upsetting tales and Schiff writes movingly as well as wittily; this is a work of riveting storytelling as well as an authoritative history. Schiff’s explanations for the events are convincing. She identifies the symptoms of the supposedly bewitched with those neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot listed in his studies of hysteria (twitching, stammering and grimacing) and she suggests that in a repressed, puritanical society, people found this an easy outlet both for boredom and for an uneasy conscience. There were also questions of power at stake: land disputes; sexual and professional rivalries. “Vengeance is walking Salem,” cries Miller’s John Proctor; “the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stacy Schiffprimary authorall editionscalculated
Foss, ElizaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The Diseases of Astonishment
We will declare frankly that nothing is clear in this world. Only fools and charlatans know and understand everything.
—Anton Chekhov

In 1692 The Massachusetts Bay Colony executed fourteen women, five men, and two dogs for witchcraft. The sorcery materialized in January. The first hanging took place in June, the last in September, a stark, stunned silence followed. What discomfited those who survived the ordeal was not the cunning practice of witchcraft but the clumsy administration of justice. Innocents indeed appeared to have hanged. But guilty parties had escaped. There was no vow never to forget; consigning nine months to obliviion seemed a more appropriate response. It worked, for a generation. We have been conjuring with Salem—our national nightmare, the undercooked, overripe tabloid episode, the dystopian chapter in our past—ever since. It crackles, flickers, and jolts its way through American history and literature.
"A witch is one who can do or seems to do strange things, beyond the known power of art and ordinary nature, by virtue of a confederacy with evil spirits." - Joseph Glanvill
"Salem is in part the story of what happens when a set of unanswerable questions meets a set of unquestioned answers."
In the anxious murk, religion sometimes seemed a kind of halfway house between reason and superstition.
I observe the law to be very much like a lottery - great charge, little benefit.
Oh! You are liars, and God will stop the mouth of liars...I will speak the truth as long as I live. - Dorcas Hoar
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Book description
A look at the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, in which a wave of mass hysteria and religious fervor resulted in more than 100 people being accused of being witches, and nearly a dozen being executed as such.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316200603, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 08 Jul 2015 18:27:33 -0400)

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