I visited Salem for the first time a few weeks ago, and I still haven’t processed the experience. I have been obsessed with going to Salem for what feels like my whole life. I’m very interested in the history of Puritans and the trials, but equally fascinated by the town’s current obsession with witchcraft, which manifests in everything from cool witch shops to hokey tourist traps. But because fall is coming (though it doesn’t feel like it yet), I thought I would put together a list of must read books on Salem (or Salem adjacent, really). This is by no means exhaustive (not sure if that is even possible), so please comment with your own suggestions!
- The Crucible. I figured I would get this classic out of the way. Though I think Miller’s representation of the Witch Trials is overly relied on (it is an allegory for the McCarthy Trials! They aren’t the same thing!) it’s an important and good read.
- How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather. On the other side of the spectrum is How to Hang a Witch, Mather’s modern day tale of a high school student descended from Cotton Mather. I don’t want to give anymore away, but it’s AMAZING and the sequel is coming soon.
- I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé. This novel imagines an epic for Tituba, the enslaved woman accused of witchcraft in Salem. Tituba is featured in many of the nonfiction accounts of the trials, but skimmed over in much of the fiction. This is Conde’s attempt to rectify that.
- The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though you’ve probably read The Scarlet Letter in high school, The House of Seven Gables is certainly worth a read. The story centers around a mansion in Salem, MA, and the (maybe) supernatural happenings. Bonus points, because you can visit the actual House of Seven Gables in Salem.
- Witch Child by Celia Rees. Witch Child tells the story of Mary, a young girl whisked away to the “New World” after watching her grandmother hang for witchcraft. But Mary is taken to Massachusetts, where the Witch Trails take place.
- The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent. In the Heretic’s Daughter, Kent tells the story of Sarah Carrier, the daughter of a woman accused of witchcraft. This novel is hard to put down, and a bit darker than some of the above mentioned books.
- A Break With Charity by Ann Rinaldi. In A Break With Charity, Rinaldi tells the story of Sussana, a young girl who serves as witness to the Salem Witch Trials.
- Crane Pond by Richard Francis. In Crane Pond, Richard Francis tells the story of Samuel Sewall, the only judge to later apologize for his role in the trials. If you want a little difference in perspective, Crane Pond is an interesting read.
- The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff. While not as academically rigorous as some non-fiction on the trials, Schiff’s book is an engaging account of the events and a great starting place for those with little familiarity with the history of Salem.
- A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Witch Trials and the American Experience by Emerson Baker. In A Storm of Witchcraft, historian Emerson Baker argues that the perfect “storm” of events enable the Salem Witch Trials, and places the trials in the context of the broader Atlantic world.
- The Salem Witch Trials Reader. This reader features primary source documents from the time of the trials and is a great resource.
- The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson. Definitely written for children, The Witchcraft of Salem Village is a brief accounting of the trials, worth picking up if you are a fan of Jackson.
- The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Salem Witch Trials in Nineteenth Century America by Gretchen Adams. In The Specter of Salem, Adams focuses on the ways in which the Salem Witch Trails were enshrined in the collective memory of Americans. A fascinating read, especially taken in the context of the continued tourism and fascination with Salem.
- The Salem Witch Trials: A Day by Day Chronicle of a Community under Siege by Marilynne Roach. I’ve never read a book quite like this, as it’s really a very detailed timeline of the Salem Witch Trials. If you want a very concrete idea of the events, than you can do no better then this very thorough read.
- The Oxford Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Magic edited by Owen Davies. This edited collection focuses on much more than Salem, but gives greater context to the witch trials in America and their memory in America.
- Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum. In Salem Possessed, historians Boyer and Nissenbaum explore the social history of Salem and the lives of those that made the witch trials possible.