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Salem Witch Trials

Top Books on Salem Theories

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The 1692 outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Salem Village, Massachusetts, has fascinated historians and the average reader alike for more than three hundred years. How could neighbor turn against neighbor? What light does this episode shed on women's lives? On human potential for similar "witch hunts" even in the 20th and 21st centuries?

Here are some books to help sort through the evidence:

1. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman

by Carol F. Karlsen, 1998. An excellent treatment of the social forces in New England that led to witchcraft accusations, including in the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The author tries to make sense of the simple fact that an overwhelming number of the accusations were against women. The book is dry reading at times, but it's my opinion that it's definitely worth the effort.
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2. In the Devil's Snare: Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

by Mary Beth Norton, 2002. Norton's thesis is that fear of Indian attacks, in the Puritan context where Native American's were assumed to be agents of the Devil, were central to explaining the witchcraft accusations and confessions of 1692. If you're trying to sort out the causes, you may want to stick with reading this plodding book to explore an interesting theory before making up your mind.
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3. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft

By Paul S. Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, 1976. A thorough treatment of many factors that contributed to the Salem witchcraft accusations and trials, including the social environment, the intricate economic connections of accusers and accused, the legal system, the unstable political situation and the internal politics within the parish's religious life.
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4. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England

By Elizabeth Reis, 1999. Reis also looks in particular at the question: why were women more likely to be accused? Reis concludes that for the Puritans, women were more closely connected to evil, by nature, thus more easily tempted. She also argues that the trials helped shift ideas about women, the devil and sin.
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5. Salem-Village Witchcraft: A Documentary Record of Local Conflict

.. in Colonial New England. Edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, reprinted 1997. If you've read several theories about why the witchcraft accusations happened, and want to check the original documents to see which theory makes the most sense, this collection of primary source material is a good starting point for drawing your own conclusions.
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6. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Edited by Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, reprinted 1997. If you've read several theories about why the witchcraft accusations happened, and want to check the original documents to see which theory makes the most sense, this collection of primary source material is a good starting point for drawing your own conclusions.
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7. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials

By Frances Hill, 1995. A very readable version of the Salem witch trials and the repressed society which fostered the accusations and the encouragement of those accusations by supposedly responsible adults. Hill also draws parallels to more recent witch-hunts. Some scholars have pointed out factual errors in Hill's study, but the overall story is still compelling.
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8. A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials

By Laurie Winn Carlson, 1999. An interesting and different argument: an epidemic of encephalitis produced the symptoms that led to the search for explanation in the witch hunts and trials. Issues of gender, psychology, socio-economic-political and legal conditions fade into the background. An interesting take which has convinced many readers.
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9. The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History

By Peter Charles Hoffer, 1997. Hoffer details the legal and political situation in the 17th century that allowed as "evidence" in court allegations which today would be considered ludicrous. He focuses on the legal questions, especially on the question of dependable evidence. No gender analysis, psychology or anthropology here.
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10. The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-To-Day Chronicle

... of a Community Under Seige. By Marilynne K. Roach, 2002. A reconstruction of the trials and of daily life during the time of the accusations and trials, showing the church conflicts, the Indian attacks and other heightened social, political and religious troubles that may have led to the incidents.
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11. Full Bibliography: Salem Witch Trials

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