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“The Witches: Salem, 1692” by historian and Pulitzer-prize winning biographer Stacy Schiff tells about the events that unfolded in late 17th century Salem, Mass., where a witch frenzy gripped the population and led to the executions of 20 innocent people.

Ms. Schiff casts her historical net far and wide in time and place, examining events before as well as during the trials and in surrounding areas as well as Salem.

“The Witches” seems to deal with the unsolvable contradictions of public good vs. individual rights and personal courage vs. mob mentality.

The trials lasted a little over a year, from February 1892 to May 1693, during a dark period in American history when fear overcame reason.

Most of the victims were adolescent girls, whose afflictions, fits, trances, and testimonies all contributed to the hysteria and led to their doom.

The author needlessly complicates the narrative by introducing characters with several sentences of description and only later providing their names. She also juxtatposes reality and fantasy for an interesting but sometimes confusing effect. It is a slow read at times due to the complexity of issues.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent book about a fascinating period in American history. The research into the psychological, economic, environmental, religious, and sociological factors surrounding the trials has been meticulous. Ms. Schiff uses archival and first-person accounts from years later to shed light on the type of hysteria taking place in Europe and England at the same time to demonstrate that the Salem trials were not isolated.

As a whole, her book examines the legal and social ramifications of the
Puritans, the trials, the adolescent mind, the truth of witchcraft, and the ways the events of 1692 shaped America’s future.