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The Witches by Stacy Schiff
Historical fiction

The Witches

by Stacy Schiff

Quick take

A compulsively gripping and deliciously fun page-turner, filled with gossip, deceit, suspicion, and lots of creepiness.

Why I love it

Patrik Henry Bass
Essence Magazine

I can't explain my obsession with the Puritans, but I know I have one, and I know I'm not alone. The strictness of the Puritan culture in the early days of American history has a sordid mystical quality that endlessly fascinates me. Just when I thought I'd read everything about colonial Massachusetts, along comes this latest tour-de-force from Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff. Perfect as a post-Halloween recovery, Schiff's rich social history is a compulsively gripping and deliciously fun page-turner, filled with gossip, deceit, suspicion, and lots of creepiness.

Like me, you will have to throw out much of what you thought you knew about the notorious witch trials. According to Schiff there is more misinformation about this American tragedy than actual facts. So, you will marvel, as I did, at how exhaustively and painstakingly Schiff recreates 17th century Salem—its fear and dread, hysteria and isolation, misogyny and madness. The Witches is also one of the most seamlessly colorful and atmospheric books I've read in some time. Against a backdrop of devastating winter, villagers revel in rumors and accusations are tossed like rutabaga stems, as ministers plot to keep a firm grip on their flock.

As the best-selling biographer of Cleopatra and Vera Nabokov, Schiff has a particular ability to bring to life historical figures in a rich environment. Salem is a playground of complex and fascinating people, with more characters than one could find in a Tarantino film. She reaps gold in particular with church minister George Burroughs, a villain out of the Simon Legree School of Baddies. Schiff's premise is that the nine-month trial wasn't about witchcraft or sorcery but rather an effort by Burroughs to instill fear and control throughout villages, particularly over young women.

Although you may think you know how this story ends, Schiff delivers a doozy of a conclusion that will keep you flipping pages long past bedtime.

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Member thoughts

All (105)
All (105)
Love (17)
Like (40)
Dislike (48)
115 ratings
  • 15% Love
  • 35% Like
  • 42% Dislike
  • Oak Park , IL

    Slow to start but the last 100 pages brought it together. A seriously detailed book that gave me a lot of insight into late 1600s New England and what life was like. This book stuck with me.

  • NYC, NY

    I learnt so much from this book! I'm still reading it all these months later, but I am enjoying it so so much. Looking forward to reading her other book (Cleopatra) next!

  • Coarsegold, CA

    I really enjoyed this book. It is long and very detailed but very worth the read!

  • Cumming, GA

  • Bloomington , IN

  • West Newbury, MA

  • Boise, ID

  • Kentwood, MI

  • New York, CA

  • Brooklyn, NY

  • Cullman, AL

  • Farmington, MI

  • Richmond, VA

  • Springfield, TN

  • Chicago, IL

  • Hornbrook, CA

  • Oakland, CA

    This put a lot of modern American culture into historical context for me. It was fascinating to read about how Salem chose to deal with the unknown and frightening.

  • Tulsa, OK

    Slow starting, but brilliantly penned, great historical on the goings on in 1692 Salem. Many familiar names if you have read The Crucible. Good read.

  • Reading, PA

    This wasn't exactly what I had expected, but at the completion of reading I learned more from one book than from many years of hearing about the trials.

  • Bagdad , KY

    A long and in-depth study of the Salem Witch Trials. I thought it was a fun topic, but at times it was a little too dense for my taste.

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