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Saturday, February 9, 2013

In the Devil's Snare by Mary Beth Norton~★★★★

Author: Mary Beth Norton
Title: In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
Release Date: October 13, 2003
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Award-winning historian Mary Beth Norton reexamines the Salem witch trials in this startlingly original, meticulously researched, and utterly riveting study.
In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees---including the main accusers of witches---had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony's leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God's people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the witchcraft "victims" described, many were quick to see a vast conspiracy of the Devil (in league with the French and the Indians) threatening New England on all sides. By providing this essential context to the famous events, and by casting her net well beyond the borders of Salem itself, Norton sheds new light on one of the most perplexing and fascinating periods in our history." 

Taryn's Review: This book is not written for your average Joe to pick up and read. This book was written specifically for academics and the history community. As I read reviews others' had written, they often lamented about unreadable and dry Norton's work was. If I didn't love history and research, I'd agree with them. However, since I adore what I do and am passionate about research, I loved this book. I did cut a star because Norton is wordy. She can write, no question about that, but there are bloated areas in the book that could have been cut down.

Karlsen's book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, had posed the question in passing about the Indian wars affecting the people and the wars' role in witchcraft accusations. Norton answered the question with meticulous research; her thesis was that the governor of Massachusetts, councilmen, and judges were the same men who had led unsuccessful campaigns against the Wabanakis Indians, which resulted in a huge loss of life, property, livestock, and goods. The men who failed in the war attempted "to shift the responsibility for their own inadequate defense of the frontier to the demons of the invisible world, and as a result they presided over the deaths of many innocent people" (308). Norton also examined the intricate connections the accusers had to the Maine frontier during the Second Indian War and the personal networks involved in the accusations. Norton explained that the Salem witchcraft trials should be more fittingly called the Essex County witchcraft trials since both accusers and accused came from outside Salem, especially once an outbreak occurred in Andover, the town next to Salem.

Again, this book is crammed with information and is intense. The notes regarding the sources are almost 100 pages long. If you are wanting a book that discusses an overview of the Salem witchcraft trials, look elsewhere. Ideally, this book fits well in a trio with Boyer and Nissenbaum's book and Karlsen's book, with Norton's being the last addition. I admire this book tremendously as an historian, but I can also understand why many people would be turned off by the magnitude of this work.

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