53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2001
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.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2000
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.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2003
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. I have found no place in the book where she claims to have "the final answer" about the Salem witch trials. However, I find her positions sufficiently supported and highly plausible.
I highly recommend this book to readers interested in Salem, witch-trials, or early American history. You will not be disappointed!
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2004
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. The frontline troops, the accusing girls, were motivated by a `mixture of hysteria, vengeful fury, evil mischief, and longing.' The forces behind the girls were members of the Puritan theocracy who were threatened by an emerging mercantile class. The accused were, for the most part, anyone who threatened the girls or the established order - particularly John Putnam.
A DELUSION OF SATAN is well written and well researched. It explained a complicated topic in terms I could understand and feel make sense. Recommended.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2002
Frances Hill does what her subtitle (A Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials) promises. In a Delusion of Satan, the author tells the grippping and horrifying story from beginning to end in a fast-paced narrative that takes the reader through every pertinent detail. Along the way, she discusses motives, both psychological and material, that may have influenced the participants, as well as briefly glancing at the number of theories that have arisen in our more modern times. The author does not provide a large historical context in which to slide the events into, perhpas, but she does give just enough details to keep this story comprehensible and fascinating. The book does not dwell on modern analogies (they are too painfully obvious, at any rate). A recommended look at this terrible time.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2000
This is one of the most insightful and gripping histories of the American experience. It is terribly moving as the horror of the witch trials unfolds. Ms. Hill offers a multi-leveled view of the social, religious and psychological pressures that resulted in one of the most wrenching injustices in the annals of law. This surely must and will be the definitive book on the subject.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2011
Overall, this book by Francis Hill was a pretty thorough account of the Salem Witch Trials and the hysteria surrounding them. She does a good job describing notable individuals involved, as well as the climate that led up to the town believing, seemingly beyond comprehension or reason, the stories of the afflicted girls. Especially in the first few chapters of the book, I was fascinated by Hill's description of the dour, fanatically religious Puritans and their endless capacity for masochism. However, as the book went on, I was annoyed by Hill's propensity for jumping back and forth in the sequence of events, especially as there were so many characters in the book that it was hard to keep track of them in the first place. Even though the dust jacket clearly states the Hill is referring to the year 1692 only, it still would have been better if when relaying events she would have included entire dates, rather than the month and the day only. At the end of the book, Hill does include a synopsis of key players and a timeline to make up for this, but she wouldn't have even needed it if she had relayed events in sequential order and inserted the dates correctly to begin with. That said, her work is pretty readable, if repetitious at times.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2003
Alright. This is an interesting book. No, highly interesting. It tells you all you've ever wanted to know about the Salem Witch Trials and more. Things you never would have thought to ask. I would have to say this book gives an excellant overview of what *really* happened in Salem, dispelling rumors and stating the whole truth. On the other hand, however, it can be a long read. Not that it is uninteresting - not in the least - but this is a highly detailed book and you may find you're pressing yourself to read at some points [or maybe that's just me, seeing as how I read the book as a summer reading assignment]. The vocabulary was also a little over my head at times, so I was sure to read with a dictionary nearby [I have your average high school freshman's vocabulary]. All in all, i would say this is a highly reccommended read for anyone even remotely interested in the Salem Witch trials; early American colonial government; or clearing up rumors about Wicca, Puritanism, or the trials in general.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2002
For those of you who have always asked "Why?" when reading or discussing the Salem Witch Trials, this book is a paved road to your answers. Ms. Hill explores, in depth, the financial, political, and social motivations behind the chief accusers actions. The "distinguised citizenry", led by Reverend Samuel Parris and the Putnam family are exposed at last by well-documented and researched accounts that will shock and dismay you. Of course we have always known mankinds' propensity for inhumanity toward man, but this book brings those horrifying aspects into a much more clear and disturbing light.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Throughout history man has been plagued by one common trait, fear. Fear is the core of the Salem Witch Trial and this book is a true masterpiece in documenting that fact.
From my days is history class I was taught about the Salem Witch Trials, but what high school history failed to cover this book made up for. I was impressed by the author's meticulous attention to detail.
You'll read about how a small community in Salem Massachusetts, in 1691 was transformed from a conservative and rigid Puritanical society into mass hysteria by the ranting of a group of young girls.
Read the horrifying details of how these girls charged a black slave that turn the lives of 19 men and women in mass murder by hanging. I am truly thankful to have the opportunity to review this book!