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A Delusion Of Satan: The Full Story Of The Salem Witch Trials Paperback – June, 2002

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*Starred Review* Almost everyone knows something about the infamous Salem witch trials, but few are privy to the chilling details that Hill, a British novelist and journalist turned scholar, reveals in her superb and boldly analytical study. Hill documents every grim particular of this travesty of justice and terrifying example of the power of suggestion, from the very first accusations to the last brutal executions. As Hill tells the all but unbelievable tale about how a group of girls accused innocent women from all walks of life of practicing witchcraft, thus instigating a year of mass hysteria and causing the death of 25 people, she emphasizes the harshness, sterility, and repressiveness of seventeenth-century New England Puritan life. It's no coincidence, Hill asserts, that Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam, and Elizabeth Hubbard began having their dramatic fits in the dead of winter and in the wake of serious political and economic conflicts. The mystery is why allegedly responsible adults eagerly embraced and ruthlessly acted on their wild claims. Hill's astute psychological insights offer cogent explanations for this moral breakdown, but no interpretation can diminish the horror. And Hill reminds us that "witch-hunts are still with us." Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"Impeccably researched and intelligently written." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; Reprint edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306811596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306811593
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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52 of 56 people found the following review helpful By shel99 on October 31, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Inspired by a field trip with my students to Salem, I browsed a little through Amazon's selections about the witch trials to find a good book to teach me more about what happened. I settled on this one, and was not disappointed.
"A Delusion of Satan" is both well-written and well-researched. Frances Hill has used evidence from many primary sources to back up her descriptions of what happened in Salem in 1692. She is careful to present all of the information accurately, and has changed nothing except to modernize some of the grammar to make it easier for the reader to understand. The large bibliography at the back of the book attests to the amount of effort that went into researching the book, and also provides suggestions for further reading about the subject.
Although historical accuracy is one of the most important aspects of a book like this, to earn five stars it also has to be readable. Hill's writing is clear and insightful, and many of the people in the story are made very real. The backgrounds of both the accused and the young girls doing the accusing are given in as much detail as is available. Hill's psychological analysis of the mass hysteria is believable and makes sense, at least to this layperson.
The story of the Salem witch trials is chilling. We'd like to think that such a thing could *never* happen today. And yet, as Hill makes clear in her introduction, such modern "witch-hunts" *do* occur, though many of us are unaware. Reading this book reminds you that open-mindedness and willingness to embrace the unknown should be traits that we all share. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about this horrible period in our history.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Laura Remby on October 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion this is the only book on the Salem witch trials worth reading. It is the only one that I have come across that doesn't try to excuse the behaviour of the so called "afflicted girls" and the villagers of Salem. Frances Hill gives an expert account of what I believe was the real cause of the witchcraft hysteria in Salem Villiage. Also it is incredibly well written. All in all an excellent book.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Ugly on January 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Having been to Salem, Mass. several times, and visited the historical sites and museums there, I felt that I had a good knowledge of the witch hysteria of 1692. After reading A Delusion of Satan, however, I have found that my knowledge was basic at best.
In A Delusion of Satan, Frances Hill provides a rich retelling of the events that draws from court documents, eyewitness accounts, and other primary sources. Also, Hill places the trials into their historical contexts; explaining the Puritan experiences leading up to the trials and the dangerous situation in which the colonists lived. This context also serves to help Hill hypothesize about what drove the original accusers into a frenzy. Hill's arguments about psychological opression and fear being the impetus for the hysteria are well developed and convincing. Astutely, Hill frequently points out that these are only theories. No one can ever know for certain what afflicted the girls. Equally convincing evidence is presented that suggests that treachery among the community may have fanned the flames of the witch hunt and helped guide the course of events.
A Delusion of Satan introduced me not only to details I had never read about before, but also to the personalities of those involved. Hill gleans this information mostly from court documents, written statements, and testimonies. The condemned, as well as the other key players, become vividly human and relatable.
While no modern writer or historian can declare to know the "truth" about every aspect of this frightening chapter in American history, A Delusion of Satan certainly serves as a useful, chilling, and entertaining witch-trial history. Readers (and some other reviewers) of this book should keep in mind that Hill's arguments and opinions are of course merely that.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Steven Hellerstedt on June 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Events leading up to the Salem witch trials began innocently enough to modern eyes. A few girls crack an egg white into a glass to learn one of the girl's future husband's occupation. Unfortunately it occurred in 17th Puritan New England, and innocence was defined a little differently back then. By the way, after settling on the bottom of the glass the egg white assumed the shape of a coffin.
Soon after the girls' experiment with clairvoyance all hell broke loose. Hundreds were imprisoned. Four prisoners died in jail. Nineteen were hanged as witches and one was pressed to death. In A DELUSION OF SATAN Frances Hill details the horrifying madness.
Hill is convincing when describing the religious, social and psychological forces at work. She is a little less so when discussing later day witch hunts. Hill fashions the Salem experience as the first wave. Joe McCarthy represents the second wave. The third wave occurred in the 1990s when vast numbers of children falsely accused adults of abuse after their memories were `recovered'. The fourth wave, she warns, may come about after the events of 9/11 and how America responds to a perceived, invisible threat.
For the most part Hill sticks to Salem and drops mention of succeeding waves after the preface, and this reader was grateful for it. Although well written and clearly presented, it's enough of an uphill climb sorting out the all the players without having to attend to modern controversies.
The Salem witch hunts occurred in a society that presented a vivid image of hell and brimstone to transgressors and offered precious little avenues of self expression or tender emotions. As Hill has it, it was an environment ripe for clinical hysteria.
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