1. The Puritans were weirdos. Everything with them was witches. Everything. My notes are missing. IT WAS A WITCH. My daughter is moody. SHE’S A WITCH. My dog barfed on my rug. WIIIITCH!!!!!
2. The airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow (European) is roughly 24 miles per hour.
3. I did not like this book.
I really don’t want to spend much time talking about this book because, a) I started (and finally finished) it so long ago that I barely remember why I disliked it so much, and b) It feels like a waste of time writing a huge review for a book that ultimately I cared about so little.
Here were the expectations I had for this book, that it subsequently failed to meet:
1. That it provide a start to finish outline of the events surrounding the witch trials, including the events leading up to it and events proceeding from it. You will only get this from the book if you take lots of notes the whole time, and are really good at extrapolating basic information from a tidal wave of minute, often useless, information.
2. An account of the main players. Again, this is technically there, but you have to be the world’s most patient human to access it. I spent hours listening to this audiobook, and right now the only person I can name and explain their role is Cotton Mather, and he wasn’t even there. (Which doesn’t stop Schiff from quoting him incessantly.)
3. Any kind of historical analysis. Of which there is almost none. The first chapter is basically it.
4. Some sort of narrative tying it all together. Again, none. This book was incredibly hard to follow.
I actually think I might know less about the witch trials now than when I started the book.
Probably the most frustrating part of this book was the style. Schiff writes it in close third person, almost like a novel, so that while you’re reading, you get absolutely no objective distance between what is happening and what it might mean. There was even a really extended scene that she writes as if a group of witches are actually flying around and cursing people, and then she never explains it. At one point she quotes Dumbledore YES THAT DUMBLEDORE in a footnote, as if it’s evidence. It’s just bizarre. I can’t figure out what she was going for. Was this her way of writing about a well-traveled subject? If so, all she did was confuse the issue.
I was frustrated and bored the whole time. And this is the same author who wrote Cleopatra: A Life (a book I very much enjoyed); the same author who once won a Pulitzer. It’s unreal.
Somebody please recommend me a book about the witch trials that has historical objectivity, analysis, and a clear narrative through-line. I would be much obliged to you.