Books by Laurie Winn Carlson

Released: May 3, 2003

"Flickers of interest, but an inconsequential entry in the crowded race of works devoted to the upcoming Lewis and Clark bicentenary."
Mix "fiery-tempered Spaniards" and ignoble Virginians, and you're likely to get trouble. Throw in Napoleon, and the plot thickens. . . . Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 5, 2001

"Still, it's a handy gathering of facts and opinions on our ill-used bovine friends."
A historical hodgepodge of things bovid. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 8, 1999

Carlson, an independent scholar (and author of the children's book Boss of the Plains, 1998, etc.), theorizes that the victims of what was supposed at the time to be witchcraft in Salem (and other witch hunts) were suffering from encephalitis lethargica, a disease first brought to wide public attention in Oliver Sacks's Awakenings. Carlson first reviews the witch craze in late 17th-century New England. She proceeds with a lengthy description of the symptoms reported by witnesses—and this is most compelling. From many primary historical documents, Carlson has selected some arresting details, e.g., clippings of the hair of a victim were fried and tossed on the floor; the next person to enter the house, so these folks believed, was responsible for the bewitchment. After examining the public response to the Salem crisis, and after a superficial look at the connection between mental illness and the persecution of witches ("Mental illness has been around a long time," she says without irony), she arrives at her principal (and longest) chapter, "The Forgotten Epidemic." Here she shows that the symptoms in Salem are similar to those reported during outbreaks of the mysterious encephalitis lethargica, a disease that, she asserts, may be spread by mosquitos, ticks, or even lice from migrating birds. She does an admirable job of pointing out the inadequacies of other explanations for the witchcraft phenomenon and of demonstrating the congruity of bewitchment and encephalitis symptoms, but as she herself admits, no one knows what causes the disease, and "much research must be done." Weakening her book is a weird afterword which suggests that there may be actual cases of "demonic possession" and that those who do not so acknowledge are "arrogant as well as ignorant." Carlson is convinced she has unearthed a Rosetta stone that explains what our ancestors thought was witchcraft, but until medical researchers can identify the cause of encephalitis lethargica, her thesis, though intriguing, remains speculative. (5 maps, not seen) Read full book review >