The search for the book about the Salem witch trials that only seems to exist in my head continues! I do not know if I will ever find a book about this subject that will give me what I’m looking for. I don’t know if one exists, or if it is even possible for one to exist. This book came the closest so far, but it didn’t make the cut in the end.
Here is what I want:
1. A book that is informative without drowning the reader in information, and that doesn’t relate the same types of incidents over and over again in repetitive detail, in the cause of historical accuracy, as this book did. There must be at least one hundred incidences in here where we have watch an accused witch do nothing while her/his supposed victims shriek that they are being tormented and pinched and threatened with the Devil’s book. It got old. Roach also takes us through everything that happened, basically, which is informative from a historical perspective, but not super thrilling to read about. I want a book with a compelling narrative, that gives me just the right amount of information. I feel like that’s not too much to ask for?
2. Historical context. This book actually did this pretty well, explaining some things in the light of the contemporary beliefs of the people participating in this part of history. But it didn’t give me enough, because Roach was so focused on detailing the minutiae of what actually happened.
3. Historical analysis and theories. Again, there was some of this, inserted haphazardly throughout the book, when Roach had an educated guess about some specific thing. But there was no broad, unifying theorizing going on about what caused these trials to happen, and people to act as they did. That is the meat of what I’m looking for in a book about this subject. Hell, in a book about any event in history, this is what I want.
4. I want the historical figures to be humanized. And this book actually does this very, very well. Since it was the main impetus behind writing it, this isn’t so much of a surprise. By focusing on the six women, and the people immediately surrounding them, Roach grounds the events and makes them more relatable. She also makes the stylistic choice to imagine individual moments in each woman’s life as important events were occurring. Some of the meatiest info in the book was in these supposed “imagined” sections, because you can read into them what Roach really thinks was going on in their heads.
So to sum up, a very informative and detailed book, clearly written. A bit bogged down in repetitive actions. Lacking in historical analysis. Worth reading if you have an interest in this subject, but not if you are a casual reader.