History done vividly. Schiff does a great job of immersing you into the middle of those chaotic few months in Salem and surrounds, where as an astonishing number of people confessed to being witches.
The lurid events that gripped Salem in 1692 have never lost their fascination. The forces that propelled a handful of girls to accuse their families, neighbours and friends of witchcraft – resulting in the execution of 20 people and the imprisonment of many dozens more – have been analysed in every possible way.
This time the challenge is taken up by Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, and she approaches it in a wholly new way that will likely bring her as many haters as fans.
In a field that seems to have been all interpretation for a long time, she goes back to the “facts”.
She sorts through the confusing and confused original sources and gives us the nuts and bolts: who accused who, what they were supposed to have done, what they said and who they were.
In vivid language, she details the old enmities between the accusers and the “witches”, the politics of the communities, the precariousness of everyday life. At times the detail is overwhelming but, more than any other account, this felt as vivid and startling and confusing as being there and watching as this community ripped itself apart.
We are given the information, and we can decide for ourselves. It’s not an easy read, but it is a fascinating one.
Book published October 2015.