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The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry Into the Salem Witch Trials

3.55  ·  Rating Details  ·  555 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
This historical narrative of the Salem witch trials takes its dialogue from actual trial records but applies modern psychiatric knowledge to the witchcraft hysteria. Starkey's sense of drama also vividly recreates the atmosphere of pity and terror that fostered the evil and suffering of this human tragedy.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 5th 1969 by Anchor (first published 1949)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,494)
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Shea Mastison
Dec 12, 2012 Shea Mastison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of the best bits of evidence I can think of, which shows how people rarely need religion to behave well; but equally, how they can use it to behave poorly. The fanatic persecution of "witches" in the Massachusettes colony is one of the most ominous in early European-American history: it turned family members against one another, and cast an awful suspicion upon one's neighbors and friends.

This historical book reads much like a novel; and presents an interesting interpretation o
Aug 10, 2009 Paul rated it it was ok
In truth, this book is a near-failure.
Historically it sucks, and it reeks of the sense of postmodern superiority often found in books written by social scientists.
Apparently, Ms. Starkey "...applies modern psychiatric knowledge to the witchcraft hysteria," yet that psychiatric element absolutely ruins and undoes any of the actual historical claims from the primary sources which she did cite.
Problem is, she takes an unnecessary and excessive amount of "creative license" and over-characterizes th
Apr 27, 2009 Linda rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I started doing some genealogy research recently and that I have ancestors that were from Salem Village in Massachusetts and may, possible be descended from a woman who was hanged as a witch. I still have a fair amount of research to prove that, but the possibility got me interested in learning more about the trials and what happened.

Starkey's book is a pretty quick overview of the events though he doesn't limit himself to pure history and tries to "get inside the people's heads." He also claims
Mar 11, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it
Religion is dangerous. So are teenage girls. This seems to be the main theme of this book. Starkey has gathered myriad sources on the Salem Witch Trials and managed to put together a cohesive account which is neither dry nor dense. Though written in 1949, it is comprehensible to the modern reader and also fascinating. Starkey has taken great care not to fabricate action or dialogue in order to add drama to her tale; she hardly needs to. She has copied entire sections of dialogue from court repor ...more
Feb 24, 2015 Lynne rated it it was ok
Given that this originally appeared in 1949, it might be ungenerous to label it as trite supposition, heavily reliant on emotive adjectives and conjecture as much research has been conducted into what went on in Salem Village for several months in 1692 since this first appeared. Starkey claims to be applying 'modern psychiatric knowledge' to the behaviour of the afflicted girls (adults were also involved, though she seems to frequently forget this), but that does not stop her from labelling Abig ...more
Katherine Addison
Although I don't agree with Starkey on many points, The Devil in Massachusetts makes a good point at which to begin one's reading about Salem. It is interested in forming a narrative of the witch trials, which means that it is clear and easy to read and compelling in ways that, for instance, Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft is not.

That said, I do disagree with Starkey, and if you begin with The Devil in Massachusetts, you would be ill-advised to end there. Starkey forthrightly b
Mar 18, 2014 Breanna rated it it was amazing
Incredibly informative and an entertaining read. So many myths regarding the Salem trials... Was nice getting to know what actually occurred. Differs greatly from the trials that had occurred in Europe, which I think is where the confusion spawns from. Definitely recommend it!
Oct 25, 2015 BillLan rated it liked it
This book was pretty good.

It is a good example of two phenomenon that we still experience in America - Religious Fanaticism and Mass Hysteria.

The rise of fundamentalism in the later part of the 20th century is similar. The battles over teaching creationism in Texas, the rejection of the science of climate change, and the hatred of other religions. Of course, this has been exploited by Republicans to their political advantage just like Cotton Mather in the personages of Ted Cruz, the Bushes, Mi
Feb 16, 2015 Maura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Great historical account of the Salem Witch Trials, but very hard to keep track of all the individual characters. Hard to believe that people could be so naive as to believe everything a group of young girls said.
Jan 19, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
Starkey has successfully turned the events of the Salem Witch Trials into a compelling narrative, explaining not only the social reasons for the hysteria but also the personal, psychological conditions that precipitated it.
The author tries to delve into the minds of the historical figures of the time and show what they might have been thinking. This often reads as hammy dramatization rather than any real insight. There's no way anyone can really know what these people were thinking. Historians c
Jan 03, 2012 Lori added it
Recommended to Lori by: Tanya
I liked this book a lot, I really enjoyed how the Author separated the people that were involved with The Witch Trials and what they're rolls were in it.

What a sad but fascinating part of our New England history.

Amanda Zucksworth
Oct 06, 2015 Amanda Zucksworth rated it it was ok
Amanda Zucksworth
English 232

The author's purpose for writing The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry Into the Salem Witch Trials was to inform readers of the events of the Salem Witch Trials. The book actually takes it's dialogue from real trial records, but Marion L. Starkey also applies her knowledge of the trials and her knowledge of psychiatry to the book as well.

One theme that is quite prevalent in this novel is that religion can be dangerous. The reason that the trials in Salem even
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Apr 26, 2015 Cindy Dyson Eitelman rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Well, darn. Fascinating book, well researched, well told. The author did her job well, pulling no stops and naming all names. She followed up, too--didn't just stop with the first witch hanged but kept the story moving until the close. Well...there's never really a "close" to history, but you know what I mean. Until the people were moving on with their lives, making amends (or not), and the history was history--not current events.

But I yearned for details, explanations, even theories. When I rea
Apr 21, 2011 Kyote4me rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Finished at last. The end was thought provoking. Some individuals involved felt tremendous remorse and offered written and oral public appologies. But the Rev. Increase Mather and his son Rev. Cotton Mather did not have the humility to to apologize or express any remorse for their public support of the witchcraft trials and hangings. Rev. Increase Mather was the president of Harvard University, the theological leader of the Massachusetts colony, and "ambassador-extraordinary from Massachusetts t ...more
Nov 16, 2013 Robert rated it really liked it
If one really wants to learn about the infamous Salem witch trials this is the place to start. This gives a thorough accounting of the witch trials that took place in Salem Village(present day Danvers, Massachusetts) in colonial Massachusetts in 1692-1693. When the daughters of the local minister fell ill the local doctor diagnosed the with "bewitchment". The ensuing investigation eventually overcame the community and surrounding area. Many accused witches were only spare lives if they repented ...more
Feb 17, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Today, we put the utmost faith in justice. We hope that the men responsible for any crime will be brought to justice; we decide before a trial is over who is guilty, and are borderline angry if the accused is acquitted. We watch thousands of hours of police shows, we are obsessed with stories of the CIA and FBI hunts, and who can help but admire Sherlock Holmes' deep dedication to finding the source of wrong in the world.

Yet, justice can sometimes be this dark, terrifying thing. In the case of t
Zach Ulrich
Dec 08, 2013 Zach Ulrich rated it liked it
The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Lena Starkey is a book about the Salem Witch Trials through a psychological perspective. The author's purpose in writing this book is to inform us about the motives and thoughts of the human mind through the witch trials. If i could give a theme to this book, it would be "keep your head down" because through the witch trials, crazy stuff happens and everyone is getting accused of witchcraft left and right and you did not want to get involved....take my word f ...more
Feb 24, 2008 Catherine rated it liked it
Originally published in 1949, this "modern enquiry" into the Salem Witch Trials attempts to explore the psychology of the people involved. I think someone with a modern psychology background would have a lot more to say about the young girls who were the accusers, but Starkey's interpretation doesn't bog the story down.

Starkey does a good job painting a picture of what Puritan life was like during the Salem witch hunt hysteria in 1692. The text comes off a bit schlocky and dated, but it is stil
Lori Schafer
Oct 02, 2013 Lori Schafer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being a native of Massachusetts, I'm perhaps more drawn to this particular subject than I otherwise might be, particularly since Salem was a mere two hours away from my hometown and we actually visited the Salem Witch Museum on a school field trip during my formative years. A skeptic even at twelve, I was impressed most by the illogic of the proceedings, in particular the torture devices by which “confessions” were sometimes obtained. But I can’t say I had a fair recollection of the actual histo ...more
The Devil in Massachusetts is a factual recount of the witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692.

I found this an amazing book. It is a perfect example of a completely factual book that doesn't get boring. Marion L. Starkey uses a variety of sources (that are all listed in the back, including which were used for what) and brings the world of long ago back to life.

The writing is a bit old fashioned, which makes it a bit tough to get through. I can't really tell if it is because the book is a bit out
Dec 28, 2014 Harry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We have all had some Grade School learning on the subject of the Salem Witch Trials but, this is the first that I have read on my own of the subject. The author has taken the liberty of writing a narrative in the pace and excitement of a novel. He has incorporated his own diagnosis of the accusers’ as learned from the Freudian school of psychology. I thoroughly enjoyed this book however, I need to follow up with a more modern; less Freudian; point of view.
Joshua  Myers
Apr 07, 2013 Joshua Myers rated it it was amazing
This book is about the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. This book talks about the Witch trials, What happened before that influence the trials, during the trials and after. Describes personalities of the Parris family, such as Betty and Abigail. See How Abigail wanted power and how she rose to the top and took control of Witch trials. How Puritan region had a huge impact.

This was not made into a movie.

I really love this book because it historical,it very interesting and how it
Mar 03, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a riveting account of the Salem Witch Trials. Marion Starkey includes just the right amount of detail to portray all the elements of this horrifying story. From the hysteria spun out of fanaticism to the economic and social background that provided a fertile ground, the events unfold in a way that kept this reader spellbound. The author highlights the relationships of the people in the community and how their bonds were broken by the reactions of the accusations of the young girls. This ...more
Sue Mortensen
Feb 03, 2013 Sue Mortensen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for a colonial history course I took. And then later, when looking at my husband's genealogy realized that he was related to Rebecca Nurse, Mary Esty and Sarah Cloyce! What an amazing find. All my children have used this book in preparing reports for school. In fact, while pulling this book out to check out the publishing date, I found notes made by one of the kids in the book. And while my son was in first grade, he drew a picture of me reading a "Book about Witches" in a famil ...more
Carla Remy
Aug 10, 2012 Carla Remy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Very mixed feelings but mostly horror at the things people can do to each other (in the name of the Bible). It is such a disturbing story. Spectral Evidence. This book predates the modern theory of ergot poisoning, but knowing more of what actually happened, I say the theory of ergot poisoning could only account for a fragment. I mean, spectral evidence (people's fantasies and feelings admitted in court). Neighbors turning on neighbors. Way too much power being given to teenaged girls. Obvious p ...more
Apr 21, 2013 Jewels rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
This book was a complete departure from the other books on the Salem Witchcraft trials that I have been reading for a research paper. While the others were more scholarly in tone, Ms. Starkey's book reads more like a novel. She has admitted in the foreword that she took some liberties in certain places to make the story more vivid, but this wasn't a bad thing. While the other books reported the facts and asked certain questions, Ms. Starkey's tome actually brought the main people of that sad tim ...more
Dec 21, 2014 N rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-teach
Again, like many of the other books I've place on my books-i-teach shelf, this is a supplementary book that I use sections of in my unit. This one being The Crucible. I liked this. It seemed pretty well-researched and was interestingly written.
Nov 05, 2015 Meg rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction-read
A classic in nonfiction. I would recommend to anyone who thinks they know the Salem Witch Trials. This is a profoundly indepth study of the people and time involved. An excellent follow-up reader to those who study the subject.
May 27, 2014 Debra rated it liked it
A little old but a very readable account of the Salem Witch trials. I believe it might fit in the category of narrative non-fiction.
Aug 07, 2014 Avery rated it really liked it
Review here.
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Marion Lena Starkey was Editor of the Saugus Herald newspaper, and a teacher at the Hampton Institute and the University of Connecticut at New London, having attended the Harvard Graduate school of Education. A descendant of Mayflower passenger Peregrine White, Starkey has published extensively on the Salem Witch Trials and the history of New England.
More about Marion L. Starkey...

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“But Mather's smile faded as he thought of what other provisions the charter contained. What would the godly say when they learned that the electorate was no longer to be limited to members of the Covenant but broadened to include propertied members of every Christian sect this side of papistry? This was a revolutionary innovation, whose consequences would be incalculable. Hitherto the limitation of the privilege of voting to the elect had been the very corner-stone of theocracy. It had been a wise and human provision designed to keep the faithful in control even when, as had long ago become the case, they were heavily outnumbered by lesser men without the Covenant. God who had not designated the majority of men to salvation surely never intended for the damned to rule. Yet now, under the new charter, it very much looked as if they might.” 3 likes
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