Sunday, June 3, 2018

*Review* The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

Genre: Nonfiction/History
Published: September 20, 2016
Pages: 512

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.

I received an audiobook copy of this through Audiofile Sync's summer reading for teens program absolutely free of charge with no strings attached. This is my honest review.

I've got to start by saying that when I first started listening to this, I didn't realize that it was non-fiction. Maybe the title should have given that away, but for me, it didn't. In spite of that, I found this book riveting. It didn't feel like I was listening to a history book, but rather like a friend was dishing the latest gossip over a bottle of wine. I felt connected to the events, almost like I might be the next accused. And if you ask me, that's the best way to learn about history; feeling like you're immersed in it yourself. 

Now I will admit that I may have enjoyed this book more because I listened to the audio than I would have if I'd been reading it myself. After all, this way was a bit more like watching a documentary than reading a history book, and the narrators tone may have prevented large portions of the book from coming across as dry and boring. I can't really say for sure on that score. I do know that I'm even more intrigued by the Salem Witch Trials now than I was before listening to this book though, so that's got to count for something. 

Overall I give The Witches 4.21563 stars. - Katie 

Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, 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, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.

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