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In the frontier town of Springfield in 1651, peculiar things begin to happen. Precious food spoils, livestock ails and property vanishes. People suffer fits, and are plagued by strange visions and dreams. Children sicken and die. As tensions rise, rumours spread of witches and heretics, and the community becomes tangled in a web of spite, distrust and denunciation. The finger of suspicion falls on a young couple struggling to make a home and feed their children: Hugh Parsons the prickly brickmaker and his troubled wife, Mary. It will be their downfall.
The Ruin of All Witches tells the dark, real-life folktale of witch-hunting in a remote Massachusetts plantation. These were the turbulent beginnings of colonial America, when English settlers' dreams of love and liberty, of founding a 'city on a hill', gave way to paranoia and terror, enmity and rage. Drawing on uniquely rich, previously neglected source material, Malcolm Gaskill brings to life a New World existence steeped in the divine and the diabolic, in curses and enchantments, and precariously balanced between life and death.
Through the gripping micro-history of a family tragedy, we glimpse an entire society caught in agonized transition between superstition and enlightenment, tradition and innovation. We see, in short, the birth of the modern world.
© Malcolm Gaskill 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2021
Malcolm Gaskill shows us with filmic vividness the daily life of the riven, marginal community of Springfield, where settlers from a far country dwell on the edge of the unknown. The clarity of his thought and his writing, his insight, and the immediacy of the telling, combine to make this the best and most enjoyable kind of history writing. Malcolm Gaskill goes to meet the past on its own terms and in its own place, and the result is thought-provoking and absorbing.
Unforgettable ... Whether you read The Ruin of All Witches for a startling insight into another age, or see its portrait of mob hysteria and witch-hunts as darkly analogous to our own uneasy times, this is one of those rare history books that stays with you and haunts you long after you have turned the last page. Superb.
Breathtaking ... a great story, exquisitely told. I had to reread certain sentences aloud, just to savour their insight and cadence ... This book is history at its illuminative best.
The narrative is as compelling as a campfire story ... This is deeply atmospheric writing, carefully sourced ... As with the best history, the lessons of Springfield's past may serve to inform the citizens of a still-divided and conflicted nation.
A portrait of a community during one of the first Puritan witch panics in the New World - and a timeless study of how paranoia, superstition and social unrest fuel fantasies ... Mr Gaskill's immersive approach brings the fate of his subjects movingly to life.
Magnificent ... Gaskill's finely tuned story unfolds less like your average history book and more like a Stephen King novel.
A rich and beautifully written microhistory ... a work of remarkable historical reconstruction.
An impressively researched account, bringing to life the fears and preoccupations of obscure and humble people, and setting them in the context of their time and place.
Powerfully evocative, a grimly compelling morality tale with more than one unexpected twist ... an outstanding achievement, haunting, revelatory and superbly written - a strong contender for the best history book of 2021.