The Witches by Stacy Schiff
Salem, 1692

72%

34 Critic Reviews

Ms Schiff, a Pulitzer prize-winning author and biographer of Cleopatra, clearly relishes her subject and its historical context.
-The Economist

Synopsis

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.
 

About Stacy Schiff

See more books from this Author
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.
 
Published October 27, 2015 by Little, Brown and Company. 513 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Law & Philosophy, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Nov 15 2015
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Critic reviews for The Witches
All: 34 | Positive: 26 | Negative: 8

Kirkus

Below average
on Aug 03 2015

As history, The Witches is intelligent and reliable; as a story, it’s a trudge over very well-trod ground.

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Publishers Weekly

Below average
on Sep 04 2015

This retelling succeeds as a work of gripping popular nonfiction, but for those already familiar with the subject, it will serve only as light reading.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by MICHIKO KAKUTANI on Nov 12 2015

The parts of this book dealing with the terrible miscarriage of justice are freshest and most resonant. Prosecutions were based on wild, irrational and unsubstantiated accusations.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Jane Kamensky on Oct 27 2015

Schiff is good at people, and people make history. But history also makes people. To reckon with Salem, 1692, is to peer into a leaded 17th-century window, thick and cloudy and bubbled, not to stare, as Schiff does, in a mirror that reflects most brightly our own self-satisfied faces.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Lara Feigel on Nov 02 2015

These are upsetting tales and Schiff writes movingly as well as wittily; this is a work of riveting storytelling as well as an authoritative history.

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NY Journal of Books

Good
Reviewed by Judith Reveal on Oct 27 2015

To be fully appreciated, this is a book that must be consumed, event-by-event, character-by-character, and location-by-location. It is not a quick read, but Schiff’s attention to detail brings everything about this time in American history bubbling to the top, to be relished and reread.

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NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Oct 28 2015

Schiff may not lead us out of the dark, but she makes it an inviting place to linger a while and listen to fresh details of a familiar story all over again.

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NPR

Good
Reviewed by Jean Zimmerman on Oct 27 2015

In this incisive and terrifically frightening portrayal of a dark time, we get to know what happened. But the why will still keep us up at night.

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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Hamilton Cain on Oct 23 2015

Schiff nimbly connects Salem’s fatal mania to subsequent witch-hunts, such as McCarthyism and the rise of Movement conservatism, revealing how close we remain to the specters and demons that stalked the Bay Colony more than three centuries ago.

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Book Reporter

Good
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on Nov 05 2015

Schiff has brought these bizarre and distressing occurrences back into focus in a lengthy, well-researched work.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Jane Kamensky on Oct 27 2015

When “The Witches” tilts, as it does in fits and starts, from why Salem happened to why it matters, Schiff’s tenuous grip on the period comes loose entirely.

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Globe and Mail

Good
Reviewed by John Semley on Nov 06 2015

Schiff’s book itself is less a patchwork than a nimbly woven tapestry, drawing together exhaustive research and the author’s own keen insights and being carried along by her effortless prose.

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The Economist

Above average
on Nov 14 2015

Ms Schiff, a Pulitzer prize-winning author and biographer of Cleopatra, clearly relishes her subject and its historical context.

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by ISABELLA BIEDENHARN on Oct 27 2015

Through no fault of hers, it can be difficult to keep track of characters, given the dizzying volume of accusations, confessions, and overlap between the two (fortunately, there’s a handy cast list). Still, her surprisingly sympathetic analysis shines as she searches for the true causes of this mass hysteria.

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The Independent

Below average
Reviewed by Arifa Akbar on Nov 05 2015

She makes a feminist case for these girls who "made themselves heard". This is disputable if, at the same time, she tells us that they were manipulated...

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Christian Science Monitor

Above average
Reviewed by Nick Romeo on Nov 10 2015

Schiff’s book could benefit from a careful editing that removed 100 or so of its 400-plus pages. Many of the details are quite literally fantastic, but even such outlandish and striking material can grow repetitive. But the work is a fascinating...

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Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Margaret Flanagan on Sep 01 2015

...she provides a compulsively readable slice of Americana that will appeal to both book clubs and a wide variety of individual readers.

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The Bookbag

Excellent
Reviewed by Lesley Mason on Oct 01 2015

She does all of this and she does it with a born-story-teller's skill. For all the depth of analysis, The Witches is surprisingly engaging. Utterly readable. Fascinating.

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Dallas News

Good
Reviewed by David Walton on Oct 23 2015

The Witches is compelling reading, a native American horror story that lives just over the horizon of our worst fears.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Above average
Reviewed by Sara Bauknecht on Nov 01 2015

While a compelling read, it’s not always an easy one. With 19 people hanged, almost a dozen core accusers, hundreds under scrutiny from about 25 communities, a slew of judges and ministers, and even two canine victims, there are a lot of names and circumstances to keep straight and for Ms. Schiff to weave together.

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USA Today

Good
Reviewed by Kevin Nance on Nov 01 2015

It's unsettling, gripping stuff, rendered in the burnished sentences of a master prose stylist. Perhaps it's unusual to speak of reading a book of history — especially one about events as gruesome as these — for the quality of the writing. But as with Schiff's previous book, Cleopatra, every page of The Witches is almost scandalously pleasurable...

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Oregon Live

Good
Reviewed by John Strawn on Oct 28 2015

"The Witches" is sure to take its place, at least for the next couple of generations, as the standard account of the Salem witch trials.

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Denver Post

Good
Reviewed by Washington Writers Group on Nov 01 2015

If we take witchcraft to be an evil mania that infects a whole community, Schiff shows it is buried in the dark unconscious of a society, a nightmare waiting to re-emerge.

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Tampa Bay Times

Below average
Reviewed by Angie Drobnic Holan on Oct 21 2015

If you're looking for an exhaustive, blow-by-blow account of the trials, The Witches is excellent. But it may be too much information for those with a more casual interest.

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Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by NANCY ROMMELMANN on Oct 22 2015

There will always be those whose ambition and faith drive them to destroy others. There will always be jealousy. That the 1692 Salem witch trials were an anomaly is an illusion of the vantage point; we remain fascinated because we sense in our skin (and see in the news) that the same could be happening right now.

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The Miami Herald

Good
Reviewed by Nancy Klingener on Nov 12 2015

By taking us back to that time — and making the people of 17th century New England comprehensible — Schiff rescues the story of the Salem witch hunts from being a mere tourism draw or even a political metaphor.

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Chron.com

Above average
Reviewed by Benjamin Rybeck on Nov 01 2015

“The Witches” is tonally complex, novelistic in style. Sometimes Schiff conjures the doom-heavy atmosphere of an Ingmar Bergman film, but more often she makes her book surprisingly arch.

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AuthorsDen

Good
Reviewed by David A. Schwinghammer on Dec 18 2015

The Salem witch trials were much more complicated than what I had been led to believe. Stacy Schiff sorts out all the variables for us with her extenstive research, thwarted somewhat by Massachusetts Bay's inability to preserve or outright destruction of court records.

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The Atlantic

Above average
Reviewed by Adam Goodheart on Nov 01 2015

Schiff brings to bear a sensibility as different from the Puritans’ as can be imagined: gentle, ironic, broadly empathetic, with a keen eye for humor and nuance.

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Herald Scotland

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Wright on Dec 12 2015

Schiff does not always avoid such pitfalls but...this is easily forgiven. Schiff writes beautifully, her research is deeply impressive...

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Stuff

Good
Reviewed by ANNA ROGERS on Dec 05 2015

...it would have been interesting to have had more on the girls' behaviour. But The Witches is a very considerable achievement and will surely remain the gold standard on this subject for a long time.

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Santa Fe New Mexican

Above average
Reviewed by Jennifer Levin on Oct 30 2015

There are no easy answers to the ongoing questions about why a town engaged in such flights of fantasy that its residents killed 20 innocent people, but Schiff gets to dozens of convoluted ones.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Victoria Segal on Nov 04 2016

She is firstly a masterful storyteller, though, bringing these characters, her own cast of witch’s poppets out of their 17th-century gloom and into chattering, shaking, finger-pointing life.

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https://www.bostonglobe.com

Above average
Reviewed by Buzzy Jackson on Oct 24 2015

Horrifying as it was, Schiff never distances herself or the reader from the human experience she has recounted.

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Reader Rating for The Witches
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Deborah Anne Atwood 3 Dec 2015

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