Synopses & Reviews
A cultural history of witch-hunting, from the Romans through McCarthy
The term witch-hunt is used today to describe everything from political scandals to school board shake-ups. But its origins are far from trivial. Long before the Salem witch trials, women and men were rounded up by neighbors, accused of committing horrific crimes using supernatural powers, scrutinized by priests and juries, and promptly executed. The belief in witchcraft--and the deep fear of evil it instilled in communities--led to a cycle of accusation, anger, and purging that has occurred repeatedly in the West for centuries.
Award-winning historian John Demos puts this cultural paranoia in context. He takes readers from the early Christians persecuted in Rome through the Salem witch trials, McCarthys hunt for communists, and the hysteria around child sex-abuse cases and satanic cults in the 1980s.
An original and fascinating look at the cultural, societal, and psychological practice of witch-hunts, The Enemy Within illuminates the dark side of communities driven to rid themselves of evil, no matter what the cost.
"Noted Yale historian Demos has devoted almost half a century to studying the European and American witch crazes, and his new book distills all he has learned. The book focuses from roughly A.D. 500 through 1700, with a concluding section on the characteristically modern phenomenon of 'witch-hunts without witches' such as McCarthyism. What all witch hunts have in common is a targeting of 'the enemy within' a member of the community who is identified as disloyal. Such fears coalesced: toward the turbulent end of the Middle Ages, when one was expected to adhere to Christian beliefs; in late 18th- and 19th-century America, when Masons' loyalty to republican principles was questioned; and in the late 20th century, when threats real and imagined to the family culminated in the day-care satanic cult allegations. Succinct and lucid in his analysis, Demos offers vivid examples of the accuseds' travails as well as probing the mindsets of their tormentors. This should appeal to a wide array of general readers and specialists alike." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"No scholar has done more to illuminate the terrifying psychology of witchcraft in Western culture than John Demos. The Enemy Within
is a masterful synthesis of this phenomenon, stretching over 2000 years, from its origins in Europe through the Salem witch trials, the Red-hunting campaigns of Senator Joe McCarthy, and the modern-day hysteria surrounding Satanic cults and sensational child abuse charges. An elegant writer, a brilliant historical investigator, Demos is the perfect guide for this rich and fascinating journey."
--David Oshinsky, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in History for Polio: An American Story and author of A Conspiracy so Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy
Only John Demos could write this book! In succinct and well-written chapters, Demos introduces readers to the ways in which anger and fear have caused western societies to turn inward in panics we now call witch-hunts. The Enemy Within, simultaneously sweeping and specific, broadens Demos's earlier work on witchcraft in seventeenth-century New England into a thought-provoking and wide-ranging study.
--Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil's Snare
A searing story, and a remarkable read. Unlike most historians, Demos does not flinch from taking us up close to real characters. We see the world through the eyes of men and women accused of witchcraft by neighbors they had known for years, as he probes the psychodynamics at work in this terrible experience. In a distillation of a lifetime's research, Demos, who is the foremost scholar of early American witchcraft, reveals patterns that go back to the European middle ages and explains how shifting interpretations of Salem reflect its place at the heart of the American psyche.
--Lyndal Roper, Professor of Early Modern History, Balliol College, Oxford
Award-winning historian Demos offers a cultural history of witch-hunting, from the Romans through the McCarthy era, in this original and fascinating work that illuminates the dark side of communities driven to rid themselves of evil, no matter what the cost.
With the vision of a historian and the voice of a novelist, prize?winning author John Demos explores the social, cultural, and psychological roots of the scourge that is witch-hunting, both in the remote past and today. The Enemy Within chronicles the most prominent witch-hunts of the Western world?women and men who were targeted by suspicious neighbors and accused of committing horrific crimes by supernatural means?and shows how the fear of witchcraft has fueled recurrent cycles of accusation, persecution, and purging. A unique and fascinating book, it illumines the dark side of communities driven to rid themselves of perceived evil, no matter what the human cost.
About the Author
John Demos is Samuel Knight Professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of several histories of early America, including Entertaining Satan, which was awarded the Bancroft Prize in American History, and The Unredeemed Captive, which received the Francis Parkman and Ray Allen Billington prizes in American history and was a finalist for the National Book Award. He lives in Tyringham, Massachusetts.