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A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  737 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
This acclaimed history illuminates the horrifying episode of Salem with visceral clarity, from those who fanned the crisis to satisfy personal vendettas to the four-year-old "witch" chained to a dank prison wall in darkness till she went mad. Antonia Fraser called it "a grisly read and an engrossing one."
Paperback, 296 pages
Published May 30th 2002 by Da Capo Press (first published October 1st 1995)
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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it really liked it
Undoubtedly, the Massachusetts of the 17th century would have been a terrifying place for a Puritan colonist. Beyond the gridded towns and the tended fields, a giant wilderness would have loomed, huge dark forests that hid ferocious bears, stalking panthers, larcenous squirrels, and possibly homicidal raccoons. The forests also would have hid Indians, the most terrifying creatures of all. Possessed of an almost mystical connection to the land, the Indians could appear, strike, and vanish at any ...more
May 24, 2008 Kara rated it it was amazing
Honestly, I am not one for Colonial America. I grew up in Boston, so I've had the Revolution crammed into me. However, I found this book extremely intriguing. It takes a very different approach to the Salem Witch Trials. We always see these trials as a "simple" witch hysteria, but it was so much more than that. Hill does an excellent job at showing all aspects of what really happened in Salem, and presents it in an interesting way. It really kept my interest straight through. It's one of the few ...more
Samantha Penrose
May 18, 2015 Samantha Penrose rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone ---especially high school history classes
This book is amazing--it should be required reading for high school history classes!

This book provides an incredibly detailed, up close and personal look at the unbelievable events and people surrounding the witch hunt and trials that took place in Salem. The book, or perhaps just history itself is absolutely mind-blowing, and the book is, for the most part, very well written.

Court documents and personal diaries are used to reconstruct the events and emotions from just before the witch hunt to m
Jun 12, 2013 Jon rated it did not like it
As an academically-minded graduate student in Literature and Theology, I could not get through this book. While it does fulfill the promise of providing a broad overview of the events that did occur, each narrative is flooded with Hill's personal beliefs, beliefs that consistently ignore the contextual and contemporary perspectives. Many phrases like "one can easily imagine" attempt to make the reader believe that Hill's explanation, usually one about a fradulent, fear-mongering Puritan society ...more
Apr 28, 2013 Hannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fully fleshed out account of the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690's. Author Frances Hill showcases the factors leading up to, during and following the hysteria, and provides some interesting speculations on why and how it all came to pass. This isn't the definitive book on the trials, but it's a darn good place to start for those readers who know little about this part of American history, or those who want a fuller account. No dry academic reading here.
Dec 03, 2012 Lynda rated it it was amazing
This book explores the terrifying secrets of Salem, Massachusetts like no other. It truly does give "the full story" on all accounts with no ulterior motive other than truth.

I began writing a novel five years ago set in my hometown of Salem, and this book was my starting point when researching. Kudos to Frances Hill for gaining so much of the story, and for pointing us in the direction of the truth and how we may have strayed from it.

Chock full of information, this book explores all of the well
Oct 18, 2010 April rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
This book could have been very good, but it's so one-sided and full of speculation that it's not worth reading in my opinion. Comparing 21st century thinking and living to 17th century Salem just doesn't hold up. The author also has very feminist views which definitely come through and I found to be a turn-off.
East Bay J
Feb 03, 2008 East Bay J rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-history
I remember reading The Crucible in high school, being told it was a "true story" and wondering just how much and which parts were true. With A Delusion Of Satan, Frances Hill has done an outstanding job of examining the bizarre events that began in Salem Village in the winter of 1692 in amazing and enlightening detail. Using what written records exist from the time and examining the background and character of the principal players, Hill turns the story of the Salem Witch Trials into a psycholog ...more
Katherine Addison
I recommend strongly that you skip the introduction by Karen Armstrong, which includes such unexamined sentences as: "What Frances Hill's book shows so clearly is that bad religion can be as destructive as the most virulent atheism.")

As her subtitle shows, Hill is telling the story of the trials, from the first "fits" of Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams to the anticlimactic struggles of accused and exonerated witches to get released from prison (since in Puritan New England, prisoners had
Dec 25, 2015 Kathryn rated it liked it
Very readable narrativisation of the Salem witch trials. If you're after a chronological account then this is a very compelling option as it follows the key players in the trials and offers some pop psychology explanations for their behaviours and motives (although I found these to be the least convincing parts of Hill's analysis). Her assessment of historical evidence is couched in language that attempts to be cautiously speculative but nonetheless reveals her partiality to a certain reading of ...more
Oct 28, 2015 Sarah rated it did not like it
First book I have ever returned. This was a chore and bore to the end. I question this author's prowess as a Historian first, and her ability to write an engaging piece of work, second. She manipulates and in some cases flat out fabricates historical events to suit her fancy and personal agenda. Through careful use of language she seamlessly weaves a mountain of probabilities through a minute amount of actual historical facts so that it may look like a complete depiction. This could be forgiven ...more
Feb 18, 2012 Amy rated it really liked it
I thought that A Delusion of Satan was perhaps the best book on the Salem Witch Trials that I have ever read. I learned *tons* from this book, and it really expanded my impression of what these trials were, and of what society was like in Massachusetts during this time.

It also renewed my interest in my own family tree, and made me wonder if my Massachusetts Puritan ancestors would have experienced the frenzy of these times, or would have had freinds, family, or neighbors swept up in these events
Apr 22, 2011 TPK rated it really liked it
When discussing any event three centuries removed from us it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction, thanks to years of fictitious embroidery on the subject, but the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 have not just been the subject of numerous fictitious treatments -- they were also based on a fiction. A clutch of bored, theatrical, hysterical girls and women, working alone or in collusion, spread a witchcraft panic through the town of Salem that would eventually result in over 150 impriso ...more
Jul 14, 2009 Daniel rated it really liked it
This book was great...Hill's analysis of the unique social, political, and psychological factors that led to the mania of the Salem witch trials is incisive, and chilling. Although she tends to extrapolate with her evidence and theorize about people's motivations a little more than I am comfortable with, this was a very engaging and informative book and it is highly recommended. Be warned though, it may do strange things to your roommate and I have decided to use it as an instruction m ...more
Katie Wilson
Jan 21, 2016 Katie Wilson rated it really liked it
Shelves: summer-2015
I love reading about the Salem witch trials. Obviously anything to do with witchcraft will seem intriguing and is easily sensationalized, but the trials, because the were so confined to a specific time and place make them so interesting to study. Why Salem? Why 1692? These are questions that have bothered American historians. While many are apt to pass over the witch trials or view them as simply an anomaly in American history, there are a number of scholars who have attempted to give this event ...more
This non-fiction book not only describes the events during the period of the Salem witch trials but it also looks at the various possible social, psychological, political, and religious reasons that the whole thing happened. Although it was a tad repetative in the descriptions of what the accusers claimed each "witch" did to them, there is a lot of really interesting information in this book. There is a list of people (which could have been more thorough) and a timeline at the end of the book fo ...more
Nov 10, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it
I'd of course heard about the Salem witch trials, but I'd never heard the full story. After reading reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I decided that this seemed the best book among the available options. It was a good decision. Frances Hill does a fine job of presenting the events, and I would recommend this to anyone interested in learning about how all of it played out. The self-righteousness and vindictiveness of the key players is astonishing, and Hill's indignation is palpable throughout. Fo ...more
May 08, 2015 Erin rated it did not like it
Shelves: do-not-want
The blurb is half right -- it is a grisly read, but I wouldn't call it an engrossing one. Rather, had it not been for class, I would have stopped 20-odd pages in.

I have read biographies of serial killers; about the awful genocides in Rwanda, in Cambodia; I have read about cannibalistic societies; perhaps most demonstratively, I follow current events, like the slaughters currently going on against Christians at the hands of ISIS.

All of these I've read, often while eating at the same time. My wea
Apr 30, 2014 MeriBeth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Historians, History Students, Salem Enthusists
Shelves: history
A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill is the classic study of the social conditions surrounding the outbreak of the Salem Witch Trials. Ms. Hill expands on previous work by Marion Starkey in her book, The Devil in Massachusetts, by incorporating more recent scholarship into New England society. Bringing a unique perspective to the cases since, as an Englishwoman, she was familiar with the class deference and societal expectations built into them, Ms. Hill gives us what I consider the first in dept ...more
Signe Kopps
Jan 06, 2015 Signe Kopps rated it it was amazing
This is a well-written book that investigates the many reasons behind the witch hunt/trials in the Puritan Salem Village in 1692.

Origins for the mass hysteria that seized the village and led to the deaths of over 20 accused witches ranged from the hysterical behavior of adolescent girls who had no other outlet for their mental, emotional, and creative feelings, to the feuds between the old Puritan town fathers whose prominence in the village was threatened by the new wealth and prosperity of th
Jason Schwartzman
Nov 07, 2015 Jason Schwartzman rated it liked it
Man, for a book about a subject as given to excitement as the Salem witch trails, A Delusion of Satan somehow managed to be really boring. It's advertised as a history of the trails, and that's exactly what it is- an exhaustive account of primary sources complied in chronological order. Trail scenes are described over and over, each one having the same general structure ("witch" brought in, the witch is accused, accusing girls contort and scream). I don't know if the author felt some sort of obl ...more
Aug 24, 2014 Miklos rated it really liked it
A comprehensive narrative of what happened in Salem in the late 1600s and the repercussions from fanatical witch hunting. A cynic would say that it all started because of one 12 year old girl and her credulous exploitative father using her "fits" to justify punishing his enemies. That, in fact, seems really close to the mark. In a world with no understanding of falsifiability or even an impartial court system, 19 people were hanged, hundreds were imprisoned, and countless more were accused. In w ...more
Jeremy Hurd-McKenney
Hill provides some juicy details and grisly bits that I haven't heard before, but not enough to overcome the personal opinions disguised as facts, unsubstantiated suppositions, and non-essential tangents of the day-to-day drudgery of Puritan lives. The book eventually got very repetitive, using the same phrases and examples over and over. It read very much like an essay heavily padded to stretch it out into book length.
May 14, 2010 Agnes rated it liked it
This book was hard reading. It was written factually which meant that there was a lot of repitition. About half way through I felt I had the just of it all and did not really need to keep going. But I did. If this interests you, you'll love it..but not for the average reading for pleasure genre.
Michelle Leah Olson
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Pack Alpha - Chelle:

Utterly captivating, a history book that held my interest like paranormal fiction.

A culmination of several different resources, this book provides a detailed and intimate look at the events that took place in Salem. It was well written, and while there was conjecture, it never felt forced or overplayed. It simply echoed most of the thoughts already going through my mind while I read.

Ms. Hill takes the reader through a factual account of the
Mar 16, 2008 Sherise rated it it was ok
I have to read this for my History class. It has a lot of really interesting information, it's well written, but I'm having a hard time reading it. It jumps around a lot and sometimes makes no sense.
Constantine Lewis
Mar 22, 2013 Constantine Lewis rated it really liked it
The actual story is shocking, disturbing and nothing like what I had always thought had happened. It is hard to believe the justification these people had for taking innocent lives during this time period.
Mar 23, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Salem Witch Trials have become infamous and entered into popular culture. They seem so infamous and from a time so long ago and steeped in superstition that it's hard to comprehend the terror and hysteria that these trials brought about. It's even harder to remember that almost thirty people died because of crimes that today seem unthinkable, that over a hundred people – from almost all walks of life – spent months jailed in appalling conditions, never knowing if they would ever be released ...more
Matt Glaviano
Jan 02, 2016 Matt Glaviano rated it it was ok
Shelves: histories, 2015, 2016
Disliked intensely. Poorly written history; way too much use of "one may suppose" or "it can be imagined" to seem reliable.

Also, I felt Frances Hill made a lot of logical assumptions -- about her subject, her reading audience, and regarding a kind of objective, homogeneous, cultural zeitgeist that I think is bullshit -- that made me question her reliability as an historian even more than her poor attempts to "imagine" narrative gaps.

Upsides: generally decent use of available primary source mate
May 29, 2012 Cor rated it did not like it
Not well documented, very speculative. Tries to psychoanalyze people, but I am not convinced by her arguments.
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