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Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England Paperback – November 18, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"A book that will rank with the best, a book that shows how much we still may learn from these people. This is not simply a monograph on witchcraft but a major attempt to understand the kind of society and the kind of culture in which witchcraft had a place. Rich in insights."--The New York Review of Books


"A remarkable piece of scholarship. Vividly illustrates what made certain individuals vulnerable to charges of witchcraft."--The New York Times Book Review


"History in such capable hands becomes much more than a chronicle: it makes the past seem as vivid and dimensional, and every bit as compelling, as the present."--Newsweek


"With the publication of this book, the historical study of American witchcraft finally comes of age."--American Historical Review


"Beautifully written and exhaustively researched."--Virginia Quarterly Review


"Well written and easy to read.... More than a history of witchcraft. It is placed within the wider social context and is thus a history of early New England culture.... Very well documented."--History: Reviews of New Books


"A work that sets the stage for the eruption in Salem and promises to transform the terms in which we understand that extravagant episode.... A rewarding and fascinating achievement well worth reading."--American History Illustrated


"Demos has done an excellent job of researching a subject of great interest today."--William C. Viser, Ouachita Baptist University


"An ambitious, informative work."--Paul Tiverow, Missouri Southern State College


"Brilliant."--Herbert Cederberg, University of Wisconsin


About the Author

John Putnam Demos is Samuel Knight Professor of History at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He is the author of A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony and The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Updated edition (November 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195174836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195174830
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.1 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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There are lots of books about the infamous Salem witch trial, but Demos has instead chosen to give us a brilliant and readable study of the more typical smaller-scale cases that cropped up throughout the 17th century in New England.
His ability to extract info from dry old records -- marriages, deeds, court cases, etc. -- and make us care about these people is astonishing. The tragic case of Rachel Clinton might actually put a lump in your throat: her voyage to America at age 6; her bitter mother who was eventually certified insane; her brother-in-law's successful hijacking of her father's substantial estate, leaving Rachel with virtually nothing; Rachel's miserable marriage to a sleazy opportunist; and her embittered old age on public assistance. At least she was reprieved, and did not hang after her witchcraft conviction, but it was just about the only break she ever got. If that case doesn't get to you, the description of Margaret Jones (one of the earliest to hang, in 1648), just indicted, and going to her best friend's house where the two women sat together "both of them crying" just might.
The book is rich with case histories, interspersed with intelligent analysis of Puritan psychology, sociology, and historical events. Not one to settle for simpleminded explanations, Demos shows how all these factors interacted to impact a community and increase, or decrease, the likelihood of witchcraft accusations.
Its description of colonial life is VERY detailled. If you like to read about the material goods and activities of earlier times (maybe if you enjoyed "Worldly Goods"), or if you like history brought to life through real human beings (as in "A Distant Mirror") you might enjoy this greatly. And it's a demonstration of the historical method at its best.
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Format: Paperback
Why did the village of Salem Village (modern Danvers) rise up against some of its most prosperous and respected inhabitants? Why did ordinarily sensible farmers allow themselves to be whipped into a frenzy that spread throughout eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and what would become Maine? Why were the claims of some hysterical teenagers accepted as "real" evidence against various men and women, leading some to death, others to long incarceration, and others to loss of their property? There are no simple answers, as the scores of books on the subject testify. If you are going to read only one book on the subject of witchcraft in 17th. c. New England, then _Entertaining Satan_ would be a good choice. If you are going to read many, start with this one and use the excellent bibliography to lead you in additional reading. With his close examination of the various factors and his in-depth understanding of 17th c. New England social life, John Demos gathers the evidence into a coherent, compelling, and highly readable account of a tragic time. My only quibbles are that I think Demos understimates the role of long-standing squabbles among neighbors and the long-term effects of the trials on the families of the accused. More consultation of the genealogical research available for the accused and their families or tracking their movements might have led Demos to different conclusions. However, these criticisms do not prevent my heartily endorsing this book.
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Format: Paperback
Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England is an example of cultural and psychological history done within the realm of the witchraft phenomenon in early New England. In his book, the author effectively ties in all the data possible pertaining to witchraft during the 17th Century and analyzes it from different perspectives including cultural, psychological, sociological, and combining all of these creates a lucid and well-documented history. In part one, John Putnam Demos carefully examines all aspects of the biographical nature of witches in the 17th century that are available to him. He first and foremost states that the witch trials of Salem were not (as popular belief has it) the only witch trials in America during the period. He then is extremely careful in presenting evidence in formulating a biographical sketch of the typical witch. In the first part, John Putnam Demos leads me to recall Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale in that, through murky and tenuous records and evidence, he manages to draw out and breathe life into what would otherwise be simple court records and disjointed data. He is also very self-critical and, before each interpretation of Rachel Clinton and John Godfrey's biographical sketches as well as the findings of family life in 17th Century New England, the author presents a host of caveats relating to the evidence. Sentences like "This material cannot meaningfully be quantified" (74) and "the extant records do not yield fully adequate information," (76) are common phrases Demos uses before drawing conclusions from the information available to him.Read more ›
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Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos is a comprehensive study of the various influences surrounding witchcraft in the early American colonies. Diving the book into four sections: biography, psychology, sociology, and history, Demos uses “the four corners of one scholar’s compass” to provide a 360 degree perspective of early American witchcraft and culture (15). The primary focus of Demos’ research was on the social and psychological aspects of witchcraft; however, including sections on biography and history, the author delivers an inclusive representation of early New England society through the lens of witchcraft. I was especially intrigued by how exhaustive and extensive court documents were for those put on trial for witchcraft. In the preface, Demos states that he wanted to tell true stories about witchcraft putting individual men and women at the center-stage (xii).

Part one examines the biographical nature of witches in seventeenth century New England. Using the examples of John Godfrey and Rachel Clinton, Demos organizes a considerable amount of historical records and court documents detailing the biographical characteristics of witches. Part two studies the psychology of those accused of witchcraft, those accusing others of being a witch, and examines the psychological structure of seventeenth century New England Puritan communities. The psychology of witchcraft is the strongest argument in the book. This was a new and thought-provoking analysis of the mass hysteria that flourished in New England over witches. A significant amount of research was done at the local level through archival documentation utilizing primary sources from court hearings and eyewitness accounts of those present during witchcraft accusations.
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