cover image WITCH-HUNT: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials

WITCH-HUNT: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials

Marc Aronson, . . S&S/Atheneum, $18.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84864-3

Aronson (Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado ) dramatically and convincingly sets the stage for the now infamous 1692 Salem witch trials, then ably deconstructs much of the misinformation that has been perpetuated through popular theories and personalities (e.g., Tituba, etc.).

Next, he reconstructs the series of trials through court records and other sources, and asks the audience to examine the material with a critical eye. In the process, he urges readers to put themselves in the place of others on the scene and consider the questions raised: Could this happen today? Why did it happen then? What motives drive people to single out others? The momentum begins with a celebrated case of witchcraft against the Goodwin children in 1688 Boston; Aronson documents incendiary factors in subsequent cases—including economic threats to established families and the hierarchy of Puritan society—that led girls to assert power as the accusers of alleged witches and to ignite massive hysteria. He also uses primary source documents and trial records to help tease out the facts of the highly charged court atmosphere, including the contortions of the accusers—which led many of the accused to enter into a devilish bargain, "Confess and be saved." Some of the wrongly accused, however, helped return the community to sanity with their acts of faith, including Mary Easty, who bravely accepted her own death sentence but urged that "no more innocent blood... be shed."

Readers will be swept up in this complex mystery and may ultimately be surprised by some of the detective work involved in understanding history. Ages 12-up. (Dec.)