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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All history books should be this gripping!
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...
Published on June 13, 2000 by faience

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3.0 out of 5 stars I love the subject matter-- witchcraft in 17th century New England
I love the subject matter-- witchcraft in 17th century New England. The really good feature of this book is that the author gives accounts of smaller, lesser-known cases of "witchcraft" and accusations of witchcraft and doesn't focus on the Salem Witch Trials. That said, the writing style is rather dry. In spite of my interest in the topic, I found myself skimming...
Published 3 months ago by Khowes74


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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All history books should be this gripping!, June 13, 2000
By 
faience (Murrells Inlet, SC USA) - See all my 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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Reading about a Difficult Subject, January 17, 2002
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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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Satan is Fun, August 23, 2001
By 
Tanja M. Laden (Los Angeles, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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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. In Part Two of Entertaining Satan, John Putnam Demos gives us a convincing psychological argument as to the character and nature of not only the suspected witches themselves, but the psychodynamic structures of the 17th century community. He offers a myriad of psychoanalytic tools, most notably projection, in attempting to understand what propelled the fear of witchcraft. By placing psychology in the context of his understanding of history of witchcraft in 17th Century New England, it's apparent that Demos effectively carries out what I think Peter Loewenberg was trying to do in Decoding the Past: The Psychohistorical Approach. Instead of relying on one psychological method (Freud), Demos recognizes the dangers of overly relying on one model of interpretation, which is why his evidence and argument are much more convincing than were Loewenberg's. John Putnam Demos executes effectively what Peter Loewenberg ignores entirely (with the exception of the Nazi Youth Cohort article), namely, a psychology of the group with respect to 17th century community and witchcraft. Part Three is aptly titled "Sociology" because it is here where Demos examines the power of local gossip through records and his own interpretation of them. For instance, a record might reveal nothing substantial but once he studies it, Demos can argue that certain families were predisposed to witchcraft condemnation exactly because of societal reasons. This sociological approach to history also makes me recollect The New Cultural History in that, in much the same ways, Demos is learning about a society through their collective conscience and unconscious and thus can explain what contributed further to the witchcraft phenomenon. In Part Four, Demos again makes the argument that not only were the Salem witch trials not an isolated even, but that witch trials were continuous through history. He studies the witchcraft phenomenon through other towns such as Hampton as well as records pertaining to its inhabitants. In these last chapters, Demos also stresses how, although the majority of them were, not all towns with inhabitants accused of witchcraft were "Puritan." Though studying Hampton and the town of Wethersfield, Demos sketches a convincing history of communities in New England and what diseases/maladies/afflictions they may have had that would supplant evidence of "witchcraft." This last part draws together well-argued biographical sketches as well as the psychology and sociology of a given community to provide a general history of the communities and the impact witchcraft had on them. Entertaining Satan by John Putnam Demos is a coherent, extremely well-rounded history of witchcraft on 17th Century New England. But while it is a solid history book, it is also an excellent example of psychological history done well. Because it is such an excellent psychological history, it is excellent cultural history in that it supplies, analyzes, and interprets the community as a force and a power that is capable of shaping and creating its own historical destiny. I liked Entertaining Satan because for me, it recalled all the other books I have read for this class up to this point and gave them all a new meaning in as to how to approach history. Had I read Entertaining Satan before reading The New Cultural History, A Midwife's Tale, or Decoding the Past I may have been much more critical of the book. But knowing now how difficult it is to write a firm, convincing cultural history of a subject using data, psychology, and interpretation, I have a large amount of respect for how well-rounded a history Entertaining Satan is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A difficult task, superbly accomplished, May 7, 2005
By 
Rose Oatley (Miami, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
The witchcraft hysteria of colonial America is a topic of enduring fascination, perhaps just because it is so difficult to understand while also a tempting stage for ridiculous theories and tabloid fantasies. This book avoids all nonsense, while scrupulously examining the real, and most minute, facts and details of the lives and communities. But it is no arid exercise in cataloguing details, and the author employs broad knowledge of psychology and sociology to illuminate the culture and mindset where this unique mass hysteria flourished. It reflects wonderful analysis and presentation, painstakingly built on factual minutia. Yet it is broad in scope and deep in humanistic analysis of the witchcraft phenomenon.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Approach to understanding Witchcraft in Colonial New England, December 25, 2013
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This review is from: Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (Paperback)
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. Demos states very clearly that this information may not be complete, but provides enough primary and secondary evidence to substantiate his conclusions.

Part three examines the sociology of witchcraft through the power of local gossip and Demos’ own interpretation of how the community viewed those charged of witchcraft. In part four, Demos traces witchcraft throughout history concluding that witchcraft was more prevalent than originally believed and not limited to just Salem, Massachusetts. Providing a few examples of witchcraft outside of Salem, Demos strengthens his argument showing that witchcraft accusations were not specific to Salem, but occurred elsewhere. The last section tightly concludes the biographical sketches with the psychological and social influences witchcraft had on communities facing the phenomenon of witchcraft.

In Entertaining Satan, there is a substantial amount of psychological interpretation of what it was like living in colonial New England during the witchcraft hysteria. The objective of Entertaining Satan is to show that witchcraft was not as simple as accusing an individual of being a witch. The witchcraft phenomenon was a conglomeration of multiple issues converging together providing the perfect storm for mass hysteria. There are really no simple answers, yet Demos does a brilliant job of interconnecting each idea to achieve his thesis.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, September 15, 2009
This review is from: Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (Paperback)
Being a Massachusetts native, I have always been fascinated by the witch trials in Salem. This book covers the subject in amazing detail. The research is in-depth and the writing thoroughly entertaining.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I love the subject matter-- witchcraft in 17th century New England, October 12, 2014
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I love the subject matter-- witchcraft in 17th century New England. The really good feature of this book is that the author gives accounts of smaller, lesser-known cases of "witchcraft" and accusations of witchcraft and doesn't focus on the Salem Witch Trials. That said, the writing style is rather dry. In spite of my interest in the topic, I found myself skimming large portions of the book because the author would take two pages to say something that could have been said in two paragraphs. Still, I appreciate the treatment of this social history of New England, and if you are at all interested in the beliefs and lives of 17th century colonial New Englanders, you should have this in your library.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very modern and comprehensive attempt, November 21, 2014
This review is from: Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (Paperback)
A very modern and comprehensive attempt.

Demos writes a very encompassing and dynamic historical work that sheds more light on the topic of Salem than most others. He deserves 5 stars because he understands something which escapes many works, most of which provide only a sliver of the pie. What Demos understands is that the conditions occurring at Salem are a far more complex recipe. One which requires extensive study from various disciplines to understand anything about it. Demos attempts to understand Salem in this way, the right way, and does quite well.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This is a really good look at Witchcraft, November 29, 2013
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This is a very scholarly look at witchcraft in 17th century New England. It should be regarded as a text book. It is not suitable for light reading
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining Satan, November 18, 2012
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The book was interesting and helpful in my research on witchcraft and Early New England. It was a sad, strange time.
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Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos (Paperback - November 18, 2004)
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