The Witches: Salem, 1692

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

Now in paperback

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 75-year-old 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 the enduring American mystery unveiled fully by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Reviews and Praise

"An oppressive, forensic, psychological thriller: J. K. Rowling meets Antony Beevor, Stephen King, and Marina Warner... Schiff's writing is to die for." The Times (London)

"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. Thanks to this, and to Schiff's narrative gifts, the present-day reader flits above New England's smoky chimneys and thatched rooftops... it is wizardry of a sort—in a flash of brimstone, a whole world made wondrously visible." The Atlantic

"Her research is impeccable; no previous writer has scoured the documentary record to such great depth. Moreover, she has mastered the entire history of early New England—from long before to well after the year of the witch-hunt. At relevant points she reaches across the Atlantic to include European witchcraft as well. This enables her to provide deep, richly textured background for specific moments and situations. Indeed, readers may experience her narrative as a virtual tour of the time and place. Her recreation of courtroom scenes is especially convincing; one feels, almost palpably, their pulsating mix of words, actions, and—above all—emotion... Schiff's skills as a writer extend to such formal matters as structure, pacing, and point of view. The various parts of the narrative unfold in apparently seamless succession. At some points they speed up, at others slow don; however, a reader feels no bumps or jarring turns along the way. She moves in for close-ups and draws back for overviews. Now and again she inhabits her characters, yet she maintains throughout the authority of an omniscient narrator who is firmly in charge." — John Demos, The New York Review of Books

"As in her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Cleopatra, Schiff excels at finding fresh angles on familiar stories, carries out massive research and then weaves it into a dazzling social panorama. In Henry James's phrase from The Art of Fiction, she is a writer on whom nothing is lost....a superb account of the Terror of Salem. Elaine Showalter, The Washington Post

"Every page of The Witches is almost scandalously pleasurable, the phrases rising, cresting and falling like all the best incantations. [Schiff] casts a spell on you." (4 Stars) USA Today

"The hottest biographer on the block...She returns to give her dazzling IRL treatment to the Salem witch trials, and unlike the blatantly allegorical The Crucible, passing H. P. Lovecraft references, and Hocus Pocus, or any other pop-culture reference to Salem, Schiff's book is actually about the people who lived through the trials. Schiff is at her best, infusing a historical event with as much life, mystery, and tragedy of any novelist. The scariest book on the list, because everything in here actually happened." Vanity Fair

"I fell in love with the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff within the first few pages of Cleopatra—not just for her gifts as a researcher, which are prodigious, but for her prose style, which is almost fantastically elegant. (What other author of popular history do you read for the sentences? I can't think of one.) Now Schiff is back with The Witches, a gripping, meticulously researched, sumptuously written history of the Salem witch trials and their historical context, and I'm falling in love with her all over again. It's always easier, of course, the second time around." Chicago Tribune

"She writes with such spirit and agility that to read her books is something like watching a great dancer. To say that her latest book is fascinating and insightful is hardly sufficient. It's brilliant from start to finish." — David McCullough, Favorite Reads of 2015

"Eerie and engrossing. As a popular historical writer, Schiff is a proven spellbinder. 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." — Maureen Corrigan, NPR

"In this beautiful retelling of one of our ugliest tales, Schiff describes the sheer strangeness of the trials and the society from which they spring." Boston Globe, Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

"Riveting and thrilling...Schiff's account of these terrors reads like a nerve-shredding psychological thriller." The Mail on Sunday (London)

"Haunting...the first major commercial nonfiction book on the subject in decades...Ms. Schiff instead delivers an almost novelistic, thrillerlike narrative of those manic nine months. By sidestepping most of the popular theories, The Witches...stands out from much of the existing literature." The New York Times

"Stacy Schiff's The Witches deals with a horror we assume we know, but don't: the moral panic that tore apart the towns of Massachusetts in the seventeenth century... Context is everything, and Schiff defines it; she interrogates her sources, makes every detail count, and her style is intriguing—sharp-eyed, discriminating, crisp. You want to understand the subject, and you want to meet the historian." — Hilary Mantel

"Though the Salem story has been told many times, Schiff's splendidly written account brings it thrillingly to life... Her intelligence, pithy prose, and storytelling flair carry the day, sweeping the reader along to a realm at once forbiddingly foreign and frighteningly familiar." San Francisco Chronicle

"She provides a trial narrative unsurpassed for detail and impressive for her mastery of fragmentary and frustrating sources." The Wall Street Journal

"Masterful...Schiff painstakingly reconstructs not just the events of 1692 but the world that birthed them." The Los Angeles Times

"Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Schiff (Vera: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, Cleopatra) chronicles the surrounding events [of the Salem witch trials], painting a vivid portrait of a homogenous, close-knit network of communities rapidly devolving into irrational paranoia....Discarding false legends and lore while expertly capturing and communicating the social climate of this particular time and place, she provides a compulsively readable slice of Americana that will appeal to both book clubs and a wide variety of individual readers....The best-selling Schiff never disappoints, and her eagerly anticipated account of the Salem witchcraft tragedy lives up to expectations, providing a fascinating account of one of the most infamous years in American history." Booklist, starred review

"Riveting nonfiction." Entertainment Weekly Fall Books Preview

"[Schiff] provides exciting digressions into the nature of continental and New World witchcraft, local political and social disputes, religious instruction, and Puritan life....The last 50 pages are the strongest as they pose possible explanations for why the craze occurred and the various motivations of the afflicted, the inquisitors, and confessors....This fully documented narrative...will find a welcome audience among readers of witchcraft or colonial histories as well as Schiff's legion of fans. Library Journal

"Pulitzer-winner Schiff (Cleopatra: A Life) applies her descriptive prowess and flair for the dramatic to the Salem witch trials. The book is packed with details and delivered with a punch...Schiff's passionate use of the active tense places the reader right in the midst of the action...This retelling succeeds as a work of gripping popular nonfiction." Publishers Weekly

"Engagingly thorough, thrillingly told, and bracingly authoritative." — NPR

"Unlike the drudgery of the movie adaptation of The Crucible, which you probably watched in high school, Schiff writes with conviction and a strong sense of narrative, elevating the dry snooze of history to a new level. It's an endlessly fascinating read." — Gawker

"Few authors set the scene of history quite like Stacy Schiff...[her latest] brings a fresh eye to the worst misogynist atrocity in American history, tracing the complex cultural and psychological origins of the Puritan hysteria." —

"Schiff's account is better written than any I have are likely to find yourself turning the pages (as I did) with a sense that until now you'd never quite taken in what happened...[a] brilliantly assured narrative." Christianity Today

"Stacy Schiff gets it. She gets people. She studies lives tirelessly and fiercely and perfectly, and when she is finished studying, she publishes works of flawlessly interpreted, beautiful, and meticulously researched prose....has the gripping narrative of a novel...Schiff's exacting eye and compelling narrative voice take us closer to comprehension than ever before." — Barnes & Noble Blog

"Fantastic...reminds all of us that witches are highly imaginative and smarter than you and disrupt the patriarchy wherever they go." — Kristin van Ogtrop, TIME Magazine

"Compulsively readable." Newsday

"Remarkable...Schiff delves into the minds and history of 1692 Salem as no one has before." Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Brilliant, exceptionally well-researched account of the 1692 Salem witch trials...Much of what is so compelling about The Witches is how vividly Schiff brings this very different era to life...This narrative approach works so well because Schiff just happens to be a superb and witty writer....The Witches definitely sparkles." Bookpage

"Masterly...Alternately absurd and heart-rending." The Economist

"A comprehensive illumination of an unsettling period of American history that continues to captivate our cultural imagination." Christian Science Monitor

"With fresh feminist insight, Schiff plumbs the mindset of late-seventeenth-century New England to explain our original 'national crackup.'" Elle

"No stone [is] left unturned.... Schiff recreates the most chill-inducing, finger-pointing months in American history." Marie Claire

"[Schiff] brings her gifts to the confusions of Salem, piecing together a dramatic narrative from disparate and often tersely unrevealing sources." Harper's

"Brilliant.... Schiff writes movingly as well as wittily; this is a work of riveting storytelling as well as an authoritative history." Guardian

"Absorbing and enlightening." Miami Herald

"Spellbinding." Daily Beast

"[A] must-read." Cosmopolitan

"Diabolically entertaining." More

"A masterful modern reassessment of the deadly and tragic mania that gripped the colonies in the late 17th century." Globe and Mail

Further praise for The Witches

"History in the hands of Stacy Schiff is invariably full of life, light, shadow, surprise, clarity of insight, and so it is again and then some in her latest work, The Witches. Few writers combine as she does superb scholarship and an exceptional gift for language with amazing reach and agility of mind. This is a superb book." — David McCullough

"The Witches is the fullest and finest story ever told about Salem in 1692, and no one else could tell it with the otherworldly flair of Stacy Schiff." — Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Quartet

"From Cleopatra to the Salem coven. From intelligent rule to hysteria, mayhem, and murder. The Salem witch trials offer Stacy Schiff an out-sized drama that seized Americans' imaginations more than 300 years ago. All of Schiff's books demonstrate her rigor as a historian and her dexterity as a stylist. The Witches proves she has something else: the instincts of a thriller writer. This book needs a seat belt." — Kathryn Harrison, author of Joan of Arc

"Once again Stacy Schiff dazzles us. The Witches is a must read for anyone intrigued by this baffling and horrifying chapter from America's Puritan past. What Schiff uncovers is mesmerizing and shocking. Her meticulous research and lyrical writing lay bare an injustice that we should never forget-lest we repeat it." — Patricia Cornwell, author of Depraved Heart

"The Witches is a vivid investigation of the original American nightmare. Stacy Schiff brilliantly teases apart the strands of myth and history. In an age when superstition remains a vibrant and dangerous force, her book is, alas, also relevant." — Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World

"This brilliant, compelling book is the most meticulously researched, effectively constructed, and beautifully written work I have read in a very long time. It is dramatic history and also a timeless thriller: who—or what—drove a New England town to madness three centuries ago, resulting in the deaths of nineteen men and women for 'witchcraft?' The answers are astonishing." — Robert K. Massie, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Catherine the Great

"Enchanting. Out of the shadows of the past come excitable young girls, pompous ministers, abusive judges, grieving parents, and angry neighbors, all of them caught up in a terrifying process that seemed to have no end: discovering who among them deserved death for being in league with Satan. The Witches is as close as we will ever come to understanding what happened in and around Salem in 1692. Courtrooms, streets, churches, farm yards, taverns, bedrooms—all became theater—like places where anger, anxiety, sorrow, and tragedy are entangled. An astonishing achievement." — David D. Hall, Harvard University

"Stacy Schiff's The Witches is an indelibly etched morality fable, the best recounting of the Salem hysteria in modern times. Clear-eyed and sympathetic, Schiff makes the complex seem simple, crafting a taut narrative that takes in religion, politics, folklore, and the intricate texture of daily life in Massachusetts Bay, with particular attention to those 'wonder-working' women and girls who chose this moment to blow apart the Puritan utopia they'd helped to found. It's all here in one devilish, oracular book." — Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller

Stacy Schiff has beautifully combined remarkable story telling with historical accuracy and insight. She has opened up important new avenues for Salem scholarship." — Bernard Rosenthal, editor of Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt

"Stacy Schiff has brought her extraordinary gifts as researcher and writer to revivify the old but endlessly compelling story of the 1692 Salem witch hunt. Her mastery of detail, her ingenuity in spotting connections and trend lines, and her intuitive feel for the people involved combine in a brilliant portrayal of cascading human tragedy. It is sharply etched. It is ground level. It is emotionally powerful. It is full of surprising twists and turns. If history is time travel, this is a journey readers will never forget." — John Demos, author of Entertaining Salem

"Schiff delves into the archive to remind us that one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in American history was also one of the few moments which featured regular women—not queens, not goddesses, but mothers and wives and daughters and servants—at the very center of drastic historical change. A wrenching, unforgettable read." — Katherine Howe, author of The Appearance of Annie van Snideren

2015 year-end best-of lists and recommended reading

USA Today, Top 10 Books of 2015
"An exhaustively researched, gorgeously written history of the Salem witch trials that unearths what really happened and why it matters in 21st-century America."

Time Magazine's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015
"With her impressive attention to detail and atmosphere, she conjures an eerie vision of the 17th century."

NPR's Great Reads for 2015
"Eerie and engrossing. As a popular historical writer, Schiff is a proven spellbinder. Schiff may not lead us out of the dark, but she makes it an inviting place to linger a while." — Recommended by Maureen Corrigan, book critic, NPR's "Fresh Air"

Boston Globe's Best Nonfiction Books of 2015
"In this beautiful retelling of one of our ugliest tales, Schiff describes the sheer strangeness of the trials and the society from which they sprang."

Washington Post's Notable Nonfiction of 2015
"Schiff's contribution to the familiar story of the Salem witch trials is her penetrating evocation of the environment that engendered them."

San Francisco Chronicle's Best Books of 2015
"Schiff's splendidly written account brings it thrillingly to life."

David McCullough's Favorite Reads of 2015
"To read her books is something like watching a great dancer. To say that her latest bookis fascinating and insightful is hardly sufficient. It's brilliant from start to finish."

Hilary Mantel's "Book of the Year," Times Literary Supplement
"Sharp-eyed, discriminating, crisp. You want to understand the subject, and you want to meet the historian."

Bloomberg's Best Books of 2015

Amazon's Best Books of the Month, November 2015

Apple iBooks Best Books of 2015