” 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 finally finished this, after three starts, which required start-over- from the beginning. It is not a novel, but is a very interesting and informative read. (I was particularly interested because one of those who was hanged is my 5x great grandmother).

Schiff is obviously articulate, well read and educated. She did lots – lots – of difficult research, and brought experience and insight to writing this book. Nevertheless (as Cotton Mather would say) her style was extremely difficult to read!

Her sentences are convoluted, sometimes constituting a whole paragraph. I frequently had to go back and try to determine who a pronoun was referring to. Sometimes I could find him or her further back in the sentence, and sometimes in a preceding paragraph. She has a great vocabulary, and uses good words, but sometimes I got the feeling she was writing with a thesaurus by her side – I just had to plow on, with a dictionary by mine. 

It was worth the effort! The research shed so much light on the horrible living conditions of the New England frontier and irrational religious fervor as well as the level of ignorant superstition in even the most educated Harvard graduates. The account reveals the level of corruption already running through politics and government. Class division was already extreme by 1692, all of which played a part in the diabolical frenzy.

Schiff offers several plausible explanations for the deceit and behavior of the accusers and prosecutors, in addition to the obvious.

It took me over a year, between other books and several start overs to get through this book, but I found it very much worth the extra effort.


Reviewed by:

Sonja Nickie Smith

Added 25th December 2018