This dramatic and deeply moving book combines a narrative that has the pace and excitement of a novel, a timeless portrait of bigotry and a self-righteousness, and an authentic history of the Salem witch trials. It stands alone in applying modern psychiatric knowledge to the witchcraft hysteria.
Nearly three hundred years ago the fate of Massachusetts was delivered into the hands of a pack of young girls. Because of the fantasies and hysterical antics of unbalanced teenagers, decent men and women were sent to the gallows. Medical science that day had no better explanation than “the evil eye”; and so Massachusetts was precipitated into a reign of terror that did not end until the highest in the land had been accused of witchcraft—ministers, a judge, the Governor’s lady. One by one were brought to the gallows such diverse personalities as a decent grandmother; a rakish, pipe-smoking female tramp; a plain farmer who thought only to save his wife from molestation; a lame old man whose toothless gums did not deny expression to a very salty vocabulary.
But from the very beginning some fought the hysteria, pitting sanity against insanity, and eventually forced the community to atone for its tragic error. Written with sly humor, much of the book reads like a novel. In the end, one is pretty sure what was wrong with Cotton Mather, the august judges, and the tormented young girls.
“The Devil in Massachusetts is a vivid and compassionate reconstruction of the Salem witchcraft hysteria. Marion Starkey has written history which illustrates the past and at the same time packs and important contemporary moral.”—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
“It is certainly a ‘one sitting’ sort of book, with the dramatic appeal of the well-told story and the significances of good human history.”—Gerald Warner Brace
“A fresh and full narration…of one of the most lurid, pitiful and deeply significant episodes in American history….”—Odell Shepard