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The Enemy Within: A Short History of Witch-hunting
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The Enemy Within: A Short History of Witch-hunting

3.44  ·  Rating Details  ·  200 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
With the vision of a historian and the voice of a novelist, prize?winning author John Demos explores the social, cultural, and psychological roots of the scourge that is witch-hunting, both in the remote past and today. The Enemy Within chronicles the most prominent witch-hunts of the Western world?women and men who were targeted by suspicious neighbors and accused of comm ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Penguin Books (first published September 18th 2008)
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(showing 1-30 of 637)
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Darcia Helle
I'm surprised at the negative reviews this book has received here. Perhaps those readers were expecting something more commercial and/or more directed at exploring the workings of witchcraft.

Having spent most of my life in Massachusetts, I have always been fascinated by witch trials (Salem) and the psychology behind the persecution of witches. This book doesn't address actual witchcraft but instead delves into that very psychology. The author's research is meticulous, his writing clear and easy
Michael Milton
Oct 23, 2009 Michael Milton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun and illuminating read.

I learned that one should try to avoid being a cranky European postmenopausal medieval rural poor widow during times of peace. That can only mean trouble.
Jan 29, 2009 Maggie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like most of us, I first read The Crucible as a sophomore in high school; but unlike most of the sophomores in my present-day classroom, I found it fascinating. It wasn't the supernatural aspect that hooked me so much (Although I won't pretend I didn't have a strong interest in the occult. I did, however that's another post for another day...), rather I was fascinated by how an entire community could go so stark raving, murderously mad - finding witches and wizards where there clearly were none. ...more
Feb 15, 2014 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though a lot of other reviewers thought this book was a bit too dry, I thought it was a pretty good balance of theory and accessibility without being too bogged down in academic minutia. It was able to communicate many of the broad currents underpinning the witch-hunts of the past without being patronizing as well as keeping them in the context of their times.

I much preferred the first two sections about early witch hunts and the detailed analysis of the Salem events. The last third was a brief
Jun 19, 2015 Jeccavee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Demos gets caught up in irrelevant, unsubstantiated arguments and bogged down by evo-psych claims that make it difficult to take some of his premises seriously (something that might have been forgivable if it had at least produced an entertaining read). For example, he asserts that the women-attacking-women aspect of witch-hunts "undercuts arguments centered on simple patriarchy" when it does no such thing. The idea that psychology somehow justifies misogyny-based witch-hunts because women are t ...more
Jake Owens
May 16, 2014 Jake Owens rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
An interesting book; sometimes I think that Demos gets a little too caught up in his retelling of events and wastes ink. The same book probably could've been written in about 180 pages or less.

I also think that while the facts are here and well presented, there's a chapter missing on the way that each generation's interpretation of witch hunts says a lot about that generation. It's something that is alluded to several times and even stated once, but I think it's a valid angle to take on this par
Jan 31, 2009 Kyle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I stopped reading fifty pages from the end of this book.

fifty pages.

that should be a perfectly clear indication of what I thought of it.

The first hundred pages were interesting, with a number of historical tidbits I found intriguing (example: Romans believed Christians took part in nightly orgies and cannibal feasts). There was an interesting moment, too, where John Demos went to lengths to explain that the difference between a witch hunt and a riotous mob was that the witch hunt hinges on the
Mar 03, 2009 Caleb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Demos' survey of withhunting stretches from the ironic persecution of early Christians by Romans--in which they were accused of the very things they would accuse witches of centuries later, and tortured and executed in similarly brutal fasion--to the Salem witch trials to the research done on witch trials since.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect he covers is the idea that there's a natural, perhaps inherent to humanity, phenomenon behind witch-hunting. That is, witch-hunts like those in the 17t
The author wrote this book to inform people about how the evolution of witch hunting. This book is not about witches so much, but more about the people who believed in witches and what they did when they thought they found one. The theme is a informational theme, it is to inform people about how false and bias opinions can bring a lot of harm and danger to people and cultures. How just because someone tells you something doesn't necessarily mean its true. the style was really to disprove the ide ...more
Jul 08, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
The term "witch hunt" is used today to describe all sorts of attempts by communities to rid themselves of elements deemed "evil", whether those elements are communists, child abusers, or heretics. People do not like what they do not understand, and crises, be they epidemics, wars, terrorists, or waves of immigrants, they tend to band together to find someone to blame, along with a way to expel that threat. In The Enemy Within, respected historian John Demos shows, in the first part of the book, ...more
Mar 09, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a newbie to all of this witchcraft stuff (the only book I’ve read with “Crucible” in the title was about the Bauhaus) I found this book quite engaging. Of course these days I find anything within the genre of NOT Architecture engaging (barring, of course, the Kaplan study guides for the Architectural Registration Exams. These definitely fall under the NOT Architecture category, but they’re about as engaging as invasive colonoscopy). To me this was a consistently interesting read – a page turn ...more
Mark Valentine
Feb 19, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I teach The Crucible to students, they become easily befuddled by the character's deterioration of logic and the rampant culture of hysteria. Demos' study of witchcraft over the centuries in western Europe and North America I found essential to my understanding of the singular incidents, especially Salem in 1692, but also to the wider appearances. It provided several factors that I will be able to use to help my students understand this phenomenon.
Dry, to be sure, but still an interesting look at (mostly) the Salem witch trials, and also the witch trials - both literal and figurative - that came after.

It's very sobering to see that mankind has a predilection for trying to parse out mainstream peoples and for desperately trying to find a scapegoat for anything that ails society. Anything accept personal responsibility, that is. And so we have woman, the foreigner, the liberal, the poor... the witch as the 'other' that must be purged.

Readable, interesting, and informative. After an exploration of early European witch-hunting and its intriguing intersections with Christianity, Demos spends about half the book on New England, especially Salem, which I suppose is to be expected. Most of that was familiar, but I still learned several interesting tidbits. The final section on more modern events that have been classified as "witch-hunts" included a lot of fascinating and (to me) unfamiliar material, though Demos could have spent l ...more
Alyssa Banotai
Demos' academic depiction and definition of witch-hunting is a really compelling read. His retelling of the well-known events of Salem, Mass. and other scattered witch hunts throughout Europe and the colonies is well-researched and synthesized with empathy and historical accuracy. The modern portion of the book is its downfall. The painstaking definition and psychosocial profile of the witch hunt Demos spent the majority of the book building falls apart when applied to modern social panics in th ...more
Christine Bowles
May 20, 2011 Christine Bowles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book! The beginning was filled with new information, and while I was not enterested in reading more about Salem, I did end up enjoying the information and points of view that were offered. I especially enjoyed reading the final section about witch-hunting in the modern world. It is sad to read that we have had "panics" as recent as the '90s, and that they so closely resemble the events of Salem. I am glad I decided to pick this book up, even though I was not planning on reading th ...more
"The Enemy Within" works from an interesting premise: that similar situations and emotional responses have led to various historical outbreaks of "witch-hunting." I enjoyed Demos' exploration of maleficium trials over the centuries, and felt his use of the sources was excellent. The last section, however, dealing with 19th and 20th century political "witch-hunts," was weaker, as might be expected since this takes Demos so far out of his specialty. Still, worth reading simply for its ability to m ...more
Good scholarship of the early colonial period witch-hunts, bookended by earlier and later witch hunts. The precedents in European witchcraft that Demos explores are good and add to understanding its transfer to American shores, but the later chapters on modern "witch hunts" are less satisfying. There are big jumps between incidents and Demos' work in these areas seems preliminary and not as intimate as his work with events like the Salem trials.
Jul 13, 2015 Harvey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
- Publisher's Weekly Review: "Noted Yale Historian has devoted almost half a century to studying the European and American Witch Crazes, and his new book distils all he has learned. The book focuses from roughly A.D. 500 through 1700, with a concluding section on the characteristically modern phenomenon of witch-hunts without witches - such as during the age of McCarthyism."
David Melbie
Dec 05, 2010 David Melbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: You!
Recommended to David by: Picked myself
This book tries to evaluate the hysteria and 'crazed' folk for the past couple of millennia and does a nice job.

It shows how, if one's fears are jacked up just enough, they will be capable of all manner of evil and wrong-doings toward their neighbors, friends, and even their owned family.

Frightening. --From A Reader's Journal, by d r melbie
This was an interesting book. Essentially it is a brief overview of Witch-hunting in the west. The author discusses what defines a Witch-hunt and why or why not some modern evens are similar. Most of the specific examples are fairly brief, with (naturally) more on Salem.
nako h.
The history is interesting but most of this reads like a senior thesis. The focus is on witch-hunting in America so if you've read "The Crucible" then you're probably good.

MOREEEEE WEIGHT... that is what I hear in my head when I think about "The Crucible".
Mar 07, 2009 Richard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I got bone bored! Gave right up! It was alright so far - I guess the subject didnt strike me as that interesting when I got into it, and the authour failed to either make it interesting or talk about califlower wigs.
I thought it was an interesting read. As an outsider it was very aggravating though to read about the court cases and the glaring mistakes that were made and the innocent lives that were ended as a result.
Esteban del Mal
I don't know if I'll finish this one. After all, how many explicit instances does one need to read about before one understands the implicit principle?


It's official: I'm not going to finish it.
Oct 30, 2008 Ever rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great introductory guide. I wouldn't call it the definitive guide to "2,000 years" of such a complex subject, but I would recommend it to anyone newly-interested.
An interesting overview of the 2,000 year history of witch hunting, however a bit dry. Only recommended for those who are truly interested in the subject
Justin Howe
Mar 09, 2013 Justin Howe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting historical overview of European and American "witch-hunting" with a lot of focus placed on Colonial America.
Mar 31, 2013 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read. Factual, but not boring. And with some interesting insights to our history/culture as humans.
Chris Lyons McKinley
fascinating - always loved the history of the Salem witch trials but this goes even further.
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