As promised….

the penguin book of witchesPenguin Classics is proud to present an original collection of chilling real-life accounts of accused witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America: THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES.

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends.

Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft.

Ideal for fans of the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, the Harry Potter series, and Half Bad by Sally Green, THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES is sure to thrill, fascinate, and perhaps even frighten readers of all kinds.

My thoughts….

THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES is a fascinating look at the belief in witches and witchcraft via actual historical documents.  From the court records to writings by King James I, the skeptic Reginald Scot, and the Puritan minister George Gifford is a wealth of information for anyone interested in the facts about the belief in and persecution of witches.   

Each section is headed by a brief synopsis that also includes historical details and facts.  Ms. Howe looks at the truth behind these trials and the varied driving forces behind them. Women were especially singled out for numerous reasons. Misogyny was rampant in these trials. 

There were also people like Reginald Scot who was, in comparison, an enlightened man in a time of darkness. Scot saw the trials for what they were and in his work, THE DISCOUERIE OF WITCHCRAFT-1584, points out the bias of the trials. The accused were usually marginalized on the fringes of society for a wide variety of reasons. Scot turns the tables on believers claiming their faith is what should be in question as they ascribe God like abilities to individuals.

King James I’s DAEMONOLOGIE-1597 promoted both the belief in witchcraft and the persecution of witches. It’s believed he wrote it in response to skeptics like Scot. This wasn’t exactly an era of free speech. It wasn’t always wise to go against the monarch.

George Gifford’s, A DIALOGUE CONCERNING WITCHES AND WITCHCRAFTES-1593, hopes for people to renounce the trials as being the work of Satan. The trials, turning neighbors against each other, were playing right into Satan’s hands. He wanted his congregants to look to saving their own souls.

In addition to these scholarly writings are the actual trials themselves.  The Salem witch trials, while the best know perhaps, were not the only ones. Included are trials from England and other United States trials.  Reading the transcripts is quite fascinating and honestly, mind boggling. The societal, religious, and superstitious beliefs that allowed these travesties to occur are explained thus assisting the modern reader in understanding the circumstances that allowed these claims to be given any credence.

The After Salem section contains apologies from Samuel Seawall-January 14, 1697 and the Apology of the Salem Jury-1697. In addition it includes Robert Calef’s, MORE WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD-1700.  Calef criticized Cotton Mather and questioned the Salem trials. Increase Mather actually held a book burning of Calef’s work.  Also featured are a few cases that occurred after Salem including a poisoning in New York, New York.  After Salem is followed by an extensive Notes section.   

While reading I was so glad that we, as a society, had come so far from these dark ignorant days. Yet when I finished and looked around at the state of the world today it also struck me how, regrettable as it is to admit, so much is still the same.

For those interested in the facts about this sad chapter of our history, THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES, is an excellent source.

4 stars

Thanks to Andrea the Book Nook has a print copy of THE PENGUIN BOOK OF WITCHES to give away to one (1) lucky commenter.  Sorry, U.S. or Canada only.  What do you know about the persecution of witches and witch trials?  Have any of you ever visited Salem? What’re your thoughts on witches?

Amazon   B&N

katherine howe author photo credit laura dandaneauKATHERINE HOWE, the direct descendant of three accused Salem witches, is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and the young-adult novel Conversion, a modern-day retelling of The Crucible set in a Massachusetts prep school. She teaches in the American Studies program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. You can visit her website at