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In the Devil's Snare:
The story of the Salem witchcraft trials is well known, from both historical accounts and dramatic retellings, such as Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. Cornell historian Mary Beth Norton now offers a significant reinterpretation of the events that (by her count) led to legal action against at least 144 people, 54 confessions of witchcraft, 19 hangings, and one "pressing to death ... by heavy stones." Norton's contribution is to contextualize what happened. She studies not just Salem itself, but all of Essex County and northern New England, because so many of the people involved in the witchcraft crisis didn't live in Salem proper. She also says these grim events must be understood in relation to King William's War, which the early Americans called the Second Indian War. This frontier conflict and the religious interpretations thrust upon it created the conditions for what happened in Salem and the surrounding region, which, says Norton, would not have occurred in the war's absence. As might be expected, her narrative does not proceed along traditional lines. It is driven more by the academic imperative to break scholarly ground than by the urge to tell a harrowing story. For readers interested in knowing what really happened at Salem, though, In the Devil's Snare may be the best source. --John J. Miller [via]