The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, by Marilynne K. Roach is the ultimate guide to the most famous case of mass hysteria in American history. This tome, weighing in at an impressive 690 pages, contains anything worth knowing about Salem. I already owned several books about the witch trials before I bought The Salem Witch Trials, but this is probably the only book about Salem that I need to own.
I imagine that my obsession with Salem probably began in elementary school when my class read a book called The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The idea of witchcraft, rather real or imagined, right in the only outpost of civilization in the dark and dangerous American wilderness simply fascinated me. I am addicted to the TV show Salem and desperately want to travel there some day to experience Salem in person.
The Salem Witch Trials chronicles essentially every word and action that scholars are aware of from the time before, during, and after the trials in one convenient (although heavy) resource. The book is written in a diary form, in which all of the news that pertains to each day is listed and quoted, often directly from primary sources. It is absolutely fascinating to be reading the words of those who lived through these events over 300 years ago. The action jumps between Salem Village, Salem Town, and other colonies in and around Massachusetts as events were a bit more widespread that some may realize. Truly, Roach’s greatest strength is her admirable and tenacious attention to detail. A great deal of the book is comprised of the real words of the accused, their accusers, and the judges.
The Salem Witch Trials delivers a sweeping, epic vision of the drama and terrible cost of the Salem Witch Trials. The early accusers and the victims are represented factually and bias is nonexistent as Roach focuses on faithful reproduction of the facts. Roach does provide her opinion, aside from personal commentary in the introduction to the text, but otherwise she lets the facts speak for themselves. Ultimately, the reader is given the freedom to interpret the mysterious and tragic happenings at Salem through his/her own understanding.
It is worth noting, however, that the comprehensive nature of The Salem Witch Trials might be overwhelming to some readers. Unless you are truly dedicated to the topic, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. Literally anything of significance related to the trials is related in a day-by-day account, so the numerous people and places can be difficult to keep track of. Roach does an excellent job with organizing the material, but it can be dry and a bit of a slog to read from cover to cover.
Without a doubt, I recommend The Salem Witch Trials to anyone who is dedicated to the subject. However, this tome is definitely not written with casual readers in mind. Due to the lack of accessibility, I am not awarding it a perfect score; however, The Salem Witch Trials is a truly definitive source for devotees of Salem.
Purchase The Salem Witch Trials