Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal & Hysteria in 1692 Salem; Stacy Schiff

AUTHOR: Stacy Schiff
PUBLISHER: Little Brown
PUB. YEAR: 2015
FORMAT:  - print
RATING: 3/5 stars

The Witches was our book group pick for October, most of us were looking forward to it.  I think for many of us there has always been a fascination with the New England witch hysteria and subsequent executions which resulted in some 59 trials, lasting less than a year, in which 19 individuals were hanged.

It all began in Massachusetts when the 11 year old niece of a minister and her 9 year old cousin became hysterical, claiming they were being bitten and chased by something invisible. (Mind you it was the dead of winter, there was no electricity, 2 kids in the dark of night who were probably just bored.)

Our Discussion - Out of about 10 who attended our meeting, no one finished the entire book. Most found the 500+ page textbook like style to be rambling and unfocused with too many names to keep track of.  Although the book seemed well-researched, most agreed that it was not well organized and that the writing style was dry.  Lot's of detail and footnotes galore.

Have you read this one? If so what did you think?


  1. I haven't read it, and after your review, I'm not looking forward to reading it either. Too bad the writing was dry; the topic is surely fascinating. It's a fine line between making sure the topic reflects vast research, while still making it accessible to all kinds of audience.

  2. I tried reading Cleopatra, by the same author, and gave up on it. I think she's very smart but it's not my style of writing so I get why this didn't work for y'all.

  3. I almost read this book. The Salem trials are a fascinating subject. I loved Schiffs Cleopatra as well as her A Great Improvisation. But I heard a lot of not so great things about this book along the lines of what you found. Instead I read A Storm of Witchcraft by Emerson Baker on the subject. I found that excellent. I can also recamend The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Karol Karlson about witch persecutions in North America in general and Witch Hunts in the Western World by Brian Pavloc about witch hunts in Europe. The Pavlac book was academic and a little dry but it was interesting.

  4. I remember when this book was published and also remember that it interested me very much. However, I am not so much about non-fiction for the very reason you mentioned - often a little dry and like a textbook. Wonder if this one would be better on audio? I'll probably just leave it on the library shelf and seek out some good fiction about this topic instead. :-)

  5. This book sounds so interesting, but you're not alone in your opinion. Several other blogger have voiced the same criticism. Guess I'll continue to avoid it :(

  6. One of my groups picked this one a few years ago. Only one member finished it. Even I was defeated.

  7. Witch rambling doesn't sound too exciting.

  8. Glad you warned me about this one. It has a fascinating topic which I'd like to read about but if no one can get thru the book then something is definitely amiss. I think I'll have to pass despite my interest in the hysteria & Witches.

  9. I was really excited about this one when I first heard about it, but haven't yet read it. I had heard it wasn't the easiest read and was a bit all over the place and so I pushed it down on my priority list. I love anything having to do with witches so am sure I will read it someday. Maybe.


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