During the bleak winter of 1692 in the rigid Puritan community of Salem Village, Massachusetts, a group of young girls began experiencing violent fits, allegedly tormented by Satan and the witches who worshipped him. From the girls' initial denouncing of a black slave their accusations soon multiplied; in less than two years nineteen men and women were hanged, one was pressed to death, and over a hundred others were imprisoned and impoverished. This evenhanded, insightful yet gripping history illuminates all aspects of this horrifying episode with visceral clarity, from the opportunistic Putnam clan, who fanned the crisis to satisfy personal vendettas and greed, to four-year-old "witch" Dorcas Good, chained to a dank prison wall in darkness till she went mad. By placing the distant period of the Salem witch trials in the larger context of more contemporary eruptions of mass hysteria and intolerance, the author has created a work as thought-provoking as it is emotionally powerful.
"(Hill gives) us a complex psychological portrait of those involved. Impeccably researched and intelligently written . . . (this book) is an informative, fascinating depiction of mass hysteria . . . Academic yet lively. Its vivid description gives the feeling that the Salem witch hunt happened five minutes ago."
Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Strongly recommended . . . Hill is at some pains to relate not only her own theory about the ghastly events, but also those of other scholars with whom she does not agree. The result is not only a grisly read but an engrossing one."
Antonia Fraser, Literary Review
"(A) fascinating and disturbing chronicle . . . Combining extensive research with lucid writing, Hill successfully brings the (participants) to life, giving them distinct personalities that make for compelling reading . . . An entertaining and suspenseful drama (that is) also a cautionary tale for our times."
"(Hill) asks many of the right questions and resists the temptation to reduce everything to a single explanation . . . A truly chilling tale, told here with intelligence and tact."
London Sunday Telegraph
"This new account of Salem's horrible wrongdoings in the name of righteousness is especially disconcerting because you are so often struck by how familiar it all sounds today."
"Hill combines impressive research with a readable style and an ability to relate the events of 300 years ago to the larger question of mass hysteria . . . This is an engrossing book, and a disturbing one."
"(The story is) vividly described by Hill . . . This is a genuine tract for our times and ought to be widely read."
Paul Johnson. London Sunday Times
"For a factual account providing a broader social context, readers may profitably turn to A Delusion of Satan. Hill has produced a carefully researched narrative."
(A) precise and timely study."