After listening to Schiff’s biography on Cleopatra, I was eager to check out more by this author. The Witches, an account of the events in 1692 Salem, did not disappoint.

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The summary, from Amazon:

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra, the #1 national bestseller, unpacks the mystery of the Salem Witch Trials.

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, The Witches is Stacy Schiff’s account of this fantastical story — the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Buy The Witches here.

In The Witches, Schiff recounts the events of 1692 in Salem from beginning to aftermath. This year of hysteria led to important citizens of one town accusing one another of a crime they found to be particularly heinous: consorting with the devil. Schiff analyzes why these neighbors accused one another of the crime, and why so many confessed. Finally, she addresses the aftermath of 1692, something I’ve never encountered in a retelling of the events. I was surprised to learn that so many wound up no longer believing that those who had died were witches and sought reparations. Some stopped believing in witches altogether. This was a tragic case of hysteria, boredom, jealousy, hubris, and ambition all wrapped up into one terrible event.

Admittedly, I have to argue with the blurb of this title. Were the witch trials and suffrage truly the only events in which women played a central role? In more modern times, we’ve seen the rise of the #MeToo movement, and of course there have been the various discussions of women’s health throughout the past century.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Eliza Foss, at 1.2x. It was a very engaging listen, and overall, I rate this title 4 stars.

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The Witches: Salem, 1692The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listened to audiobook at 1.2x. The final arc really interested me. I’ve never heard much about the aftermath and was very into learning more.

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Book Club Questions

  1. What new information did you learn while reading this book? What surprised you?
  2. What were the reasons people accused one another of witchcraft?
  3. What were the reasons those accused of witchcraft confessed or didn’t confess?
  4. What was the aftermath of 1692, both short and long term?

Interested? Buy The Witches.
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P.S. I listened to this book on Audible. Try Audible and get two free audiobooks!

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