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In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
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In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

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3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  523 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Award-winning historian Mary Beth Norton reexamines the Salem witch trials in this startlingly original, meticulously researched, and utterly riveting study.

In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees—...more
Paperback, 436 pages
Published October 14th 2003 by Vintage (first published 2002)
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The Crucible by Arthur MillerThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine HoweThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George SpeareThe Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen KentA Break with Charity by Ann Rinaldi
Best of the Salem Witch Trials
10th out of 55 books — 143 voters
The Crucible by Arthur MillerThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine HoweSalem Possessed by Paul BoyerIn the Devil's Snare by Mary Beth NortonThe Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol F. Karlsen
Salem
4th out of 107 books — 16 voters


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Community Reviews

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Milli
May 31, 2010 Milli rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
One of the most detailed accounts of the Salem Witch Trials I have ever read. Norton makes an interesting case, combining the fear of Indian raids from the outside with the internal fear of Satan and witchcraft within Essex County. One could only imagine such an environment; surrounded in fear from the inside and out.

I have to admit, I didn't finish reading this book. Norton includes some great evidence and primary sources from Cotton Mather and other well-known players in the trials. However,...more
Melissa
An interesting subject, but after a while reading this book felt more like a chore than a pleasure. The author's a good historian but a mediocre storyteller; Norton never manages to tap into the human drama of the story and thus creates more of a dry catalogue of events than an actual narrative.
David Nichols
Norton's award-winning IN THE DEVIL'S SNARE offers the most important revision to date of Boyer and Nissenbaum's influential interpretation of the 1692 witch trials, SALEM POSSESSED (1972). Unlike those earlier authors, who characterized the witchcraft crisis as the outgrowth of intra-community conflict, Mary Beth Norton observes that the crisis was a regional event that occurred in the context of a disastrous frontier war and a breakdown in provincial political authority. Many of the accusers i...more
Michael
Not a bad book. It covers the trials very thoroughly. The beginning has a lot of quotes! Almost entirely quotes at some points. Misspellings and bad grammar and all! And there is a lot of names. So many different names that's it's hard to remember who is who. But as far as learning about the witch trials and the events around it this is a good book. If you have an interest in the witch trials... you should learn a lot. I did. I personally believe the trials were a farce. Liars and corruption cos...more
John
I really liked this, but I would hesitate to recommend it to people who rarely read history, I think it might seem dense and hard to plow through. But so interesting, and anyone who is curious about the Salem Witch Trials should check this out. Norton thinks that too much attention has been paid over the years to debating the accusers in the trial (why did they do it, were they just purely faking it all, etc.), and more attention should be paid to the context of the Trials, and what was going on...more
Jays
I really wanted to rank this higher, and am almost ashamed that I can't. I'm a history nerd, love colonial history, and a total dork about community-wide paranoia and I still couldn't get past how dry this book got at times. The author is one of the foremost writers on this time period and subject and while she takes a truly interesting look at the outside influences playing into the paranoia of Salem and environs, her over-reliance on written testimony of the time made the book hard to get thro...more
K
I only have read the free chapters... plan to buy this book!
Brett
The Salem Witchcraft trials of 1692 are a morbidly fascinating event in our country's history, a singular occurrence that never fails to interest. It's been looked at many times through different lenses, & a lot of theories on just why the crisis occurred have been very plausibly posited in different works. Reasons from socio-economic structure to the inherent structural misogyny of the era to a kind of hallucination-inducing mildew in the grain all make sense, but this book makes an argumen...more
Diana
I found this to be a great overview of the entire witchcraft crisis in Salem and surrounding areas during the late seventeenth century. One could tell that Norton had done quite a bit of in-depth research into the subject drawing from several first-hand accounts of the series of events. Even centuries later, it is horrifying to think of such a fate being dealt to innocent people because of the false accusations of those around them. Another sad historical instance where people are sent to their...more
Andrea
I picked this up back in October, thinking that by the time Halloween rolled around, I could relate some witty and interesting tidbits about why witches wear pointy hats, with fond memories of the witch trial in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

In fact, Norton takes us on a rigorously academic journey, analyzing the social, spiritual, and legal atmosphere that charged Salem and northern New England in the late 1600s. The facts are relatively undisputed: Young girls began have strange "fits" where they...more
Ron Charles
"The Crucible," by Arthur Miller, is an illuminating piece of theater. But as one of America's most often produced plays, it casts a spell over our cultural imagination that complicates the historian's task. The factual inaccuracies - composite characters, age changes, the adulterous affair at the center of the play - are, in a sense, the least of it.

Embroiled in the cold-war paranoia of the 1950s, Miller needed a sufficiently distant setting to critique what he called a "perverse manifestation...more
Erin Zelnio
This is a book to be read after obtaining a firm grounding in the basics of the Salem Witch Trials. Specifically, the timeline, the accusers, the accused, the court officials, the colony politics, etc. This absolutely is not an introduction to the subject, obtherwise the reader will become extremely confused.

Norton revisits the Salem Witch Trials, this time examining the relationships between the accusers and accused in the broader context of the Massachusetts Colony, rather than focusing just o...more
Jim
Anyone who has been to Salem, MA understands that the famous witch trials of the 1600s is a real part of our country's history. To many, however, it seems ludicrous that people were scared of, and set out to kill those that instilled fear in them. Mary Beth Norton does a fine job of placing the reader into the 1600s and provides understanding as to the paranoia that existed.

Instead of focusing merely on the Witch Trials, Norton provides a history of what lead to the hysteria. She notes the psyc...more
Peter F
Fascinating.

I have always been intrigued by the Salem witch trials (partly, I'm sure, due in fact to my own ancestral connection to one of the hanged), though my exposure to information regarding this crisis has only ever been through pop culture references (e.g., "The Crucible," American history courses, etc.). So it was with a breath of fresh air that I devoured Norton's tome regarding the 1692 situation.

Mary Beth remains impeccably objective as she chronicles the events leading up to, taking...more
Helen
Norton's thesis is that the Salem witch trials (which she aptly calls the "witchcraft crisis") were directly related to the two Indian wars, one occuring concurrently, and the other about ten years before. A significant portion of the accusers were in fact refugees from the Maine coast, people who had watched their families killed by Indians, who the Puritans already equated very closely with the devil and devil worship. The forest was the realm of the usually hidden, suddenly striking Indians,...more
Heather
This book is a serious commitment, so for those of you that have little to no patience, skip to the conclusion, most, but not all, the good stuff is there. Norton's approach is refreshing; by examining the 17th century Puritan New England worldview in relation to the conflict of the first and second Indian Wars, the crisis in Salem no longer appears to be simply the manifestation of hysterical teenagers. Instead through exhaustive, often tedious, scholarship, Norton recreates the hostile environ...more
John
Mar 08, 2008 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Americans, Witches, Devils, Lawyers, Doctors, Chiefs, etc.
Witches, Witches, Witches. This is an awesome book not only because it makes a compelling argument for a connection between the witchcraft trials and the current (and really never-ending) war with the original inhabitants of america) but also because it exposes the way that "rationality" shifts over time. The judges and lawyers did all of their "work" (at killing mostly innocent people who happened to weird other people out or piss off other people in some way) in accordance with the rule of law...more
Joshua  Myers
Wow! This book is one of the most detailed accounts of the Salem Witch trials in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts that I have read. Talks about the History and about each person that were hanged personally and how there were punished and how religion and a group of young girls made a huge role in who was said to be "Witches" and how they would be punished. Also describes history and personalities of judges and how they got them selves to believe in Witch craft. Very historic and true.

This book has n...more
peaseblossom
Extremely solid, detailed and well-researched, a little dull in places, but good to counteract the sexy witchcraft torture narrative trap. I think Norton succeeds in proving that some of the afflicted, confessors, and their supporters, had an eye to Maine and the Indian Wars, but It's definitely only a part of a very complex situation, and maybe not the greater part, as she attests.
Persephone
I didn't so much read this as dip in and out of it. It's a meticulously researched book written by yet another descendant of an accused witch in Salem and its surrounding areas. Mary Beth Norton is an academic at Cornell (I think) and is also descended from some of the accusers and judges. (They were all pretty much intermarried; there weren't that many of them as they had only been in America for three or four generations in 1692.)

Norton addresses the existing theories for the cause of the hyst...more
Lily
I picked up this book because I thought Norton's lecture was really interesting, and hoped the book would flesh out the details some more.

The author obviously spent a lot of time researching her topic and the book provides a new perspective on the witchcraft trials, or crisis, but the writing was pedantic and reading it tedious. Not only did it feel like she overquoted a lot (which gets boring fast), it seemed monotonous: "This happened. And then this. And then this girl had a fit," over and ove...more
Darlene
While this book is full of historical facts, it is also full of the writers opinion. The writer is an obvious feminist and unfortunately that affected her interpretation of the majority of historical data she collected.
Jen

This book, while well researched, was a disappointment. It never seemed to answer any of the questions I had about the Salem Witchcraft Crisis, especially relating to why these claims were taken so seriously and what prompted this particular outbreak.

It wasn't until page 210 that I thought she concisely outlined her thesis as to the heightened fear of witchcraft - "Then, in the context of fears of a combined assault from the visible and invisible worlds, and with witches and Indians coordinating...more
Anne
A look at the Trials from someone whose research isn't skewered. Proposes the fears and actual indian raids had a large part to play in the "hysteria" of Salem and other villages in 1692.
Kris
An excellent view of the the infamous Witch Trials. Dr Norton spends a lot of time on the overlooked less gory details of the society that Salem inhabited. She goes into great detail about the Indian Wars raging just north of there and the social conditions of the people in Salem and it's surrounding environs. Ultimately she creates a sympathetic picture of frustrated, traumatised - and largely ignored- women, who became caught up in a mess that couldn't control and had no ability to stop.

The bo...more
Samuel Thews
While there is a quote by David McCullough on the cover that this book is "utterly fascinating", the storytelling in this book so not even close to McCullough's genius. True, the author's premise is a good one and I for one believe her conclusions, but the book is a mass of facts and excerpts and very hard to get into. If you are interested in a very well-researched and documented dissertation on the political and other motives behind the Salem Witch Trials, and don't care about storytelling, it...more
Terragyrl3
Scholarly, thoughtful analysis reveals a larger pattern of who fell victim to the Salem Witch Hunt.
Jessica *Eyrinnia Reviews*
Excellently researched and very well written. Hands down one of the top books on this subject.
Leah
The only reason I didn't like it more is because thanks to college applications, it took me a month and a half to read, which for me is about a century when it comes to reading a book that isn't the size of Les Mis, so it was a bit frustrating. It was, however, extremely interesting. I liked it a lot. I love history, and this was a very good description of the Salem With Trials. The majority of it was also more summary than proving her thesis, which would pop up at random points, so that wasn't...more
Deena
This was an insightful, well researched look into the Salem Witch Crisis as it related to the 1st and 2nd Indian wars. Her arguments were clear and logical, and even though it was a pretty heavily academic read I enjoyed it immensely. I would love to sit down with the author and hear her thoughts about the aftermath of the crisis and what happened to both the accusers and the lucky ones who escaped hanging/pressing. If you appreciate strong academic books about historic events, I highly recommen...more
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