Date: 03 Apr 1998
I just finished Peter Charles Hoffer's _The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History_, and I have to say that it gets my vote for best introduction to Salem.
The title might lead you to believe that this is a specialized text, one that focuses on the legal precendents and issues raised in the trials. Well, it's not! It's a general overview of the trials, though it does pay a little more attention to legal issues than other books do.
What sets it apart, however, is the beautifully concise and insightful way that Hoffer summarizes the trials *and* their social setting. The book is aimed at a general audience -- Hoffer doesn't even presume that his readers know what a Puritan is. And so, scattered discretely throughout the book, there are paragraphs describing various aspects of colonial life. What Puritans were. The political situation in 17th century Massachusetts. The differences between English and American law on witchcraft. These asides are woven into the main text seemlessly. They never jar, never detract from the main story. And they're not so long or involved that they'll tire a reader who does know a bit about the topics.
It's a masterful job. I am amazed at the way Hoffer brings colonial Salem to life, in only 150 pages.
The only drawback is that this *is* a general text. The explanations are occasionally over-brief, and Hoffer doesn't go into as much detail as some might want. But if you're looking for a superb introduction to Salem or want a pleasant, brief summary of Puritan life and history, you couldn't do better than this!