by Mary Beth Norton ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 8, 2002
Blazes new trails into Salem’s well-explored history.
The author of Founding Mothers and Fathers (1996) evaluates a less edifying episode in early American history—the infamous 1692 witchcraft scare—and finds connections between the terrors of American’s Second Indian War and the colonial authorities’ endorsement of the trials.
Instead of writing another history of the oft-chronicled crisis, Norton (American History/Cornell Univ.) looks at the notoriously flawed and unfair trails from a 17th-century perspective. She quickly uncovers a number of historical threads not previously explored by scholars. Most prominently, Norton argues that massacres of colonists by the fearsome Wabanakis tribe during the Second Indian War and the colonial government’s failure to effectively counter such killings were the main precipitators of the witchcraft trials. According to the author, the contemporary Puritan worldview insisted that the military failures of such notable officials as chief judge William Stroughton and Sir William Phips indicated God’s displeasure with the New England colonies. Furthermore, Norton reveals, many of the Salem accusers had suffered personal losses at the hands of brutal Wabanakis. In her analysis of spiraling war fears and spiritual hysteria, the author contends that the state’s leaders were all too willing to believe allegations of witchcraft, which they convinced themselves was evidence of Satan’s rather than their own incompetence. Norton, a feminist scholar, blames the Massachusetts governor, councils, and judges for the executions of innocent Salem “witches.” Her fascinating new take on the crisis has particular relevance in our own era, when rumors of war and resurgent religious fervor again create a volatile cultural mix.Blazes new trails into Salem’s well-explored history.
Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2002
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002
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by Stephen Batchelor ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 18, 2020
A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.
A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.
“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.
Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020
Page Count: 200
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019
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by Kerry Egan ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 25, 2016
A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.
Lessons about life from those preparing to die.
A longtime hospice chaplain, Egan (Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago, 2004) shares what she has learned through the stories of those nearing death. She notices that for every life, there are shared stories of heartbreak, pain, guilt, fear, and regret. “Every one of us will go through things that destroy our inner compass and pull meaning out from under us,” she writes. “Everyone who does not die young will go through some sort of spiritual crisis.” The author is also straightforward in noting that through her experiences with the brokenness of others, and in trying to assist in that brokenness, she has found healing for herself. Several years ago, during a C-section, Egan suffered a bad reaction to the anesthesia, leading to months of psychotic disorders and years of recovery. The experience left her with tremendous emotional pain and latent feelings of shame, regret, and anger. However, with each patient she helped, the author found herself better understanding her own past. Despite her role as a chaplain, Egan notes that she rarely discussed God or religious subjects with her patients. Mainly, when people could talk at all, they discussed their families, “because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.” It is through families, Egan began to realize, that “we find meaning, and this is where our purpose becomes clear.” The author’s anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos. She is not afraid to point out times where she made mistakes, even downright failures, in the course of her work. However, the nature of her work means “living in the gray,” where right and wrong answers are often hard to identify.A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.
Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016
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