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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Witch Hunt: A History of Persecution by Nigel Cawthorne

Good information but told in a repetitious manner that wore this reader down

A witch burning
Cawthorne's Witch Hunt: A History of Persecution is a recounting of the witch hunt craze that infected not only Salem, Massachussets, a topic with which most Americans have a least a passing familiarity, but throughout Europe to a much, much larger degree. The back of the back says that this book "...examines this persecution and the religious hysteria which inspired it." To me the use of the word examination implies that the author will interpret this hysteria and make observations and insights throughout the reading. Cawthorne does not do anything close to this, with the exception of a brief, four page introduction. Rather, he recounts witch trial after witch trial, often going into great detail about the tortures used and the indictments brought against the accused witches.

While this is an impressive bit of research, the book felt half-done. It was as if Cawthorne had written up his research notes and then had to hurry off to write something else before he added his own touches. What he leaves us with is more than 200 pages of torture, false accusations and descriptions of supposed orgies between witches and Satan. The first dozen times I read about them, I was interested. By the 50th time, they become most wearisome. Not that they were not horrific stories, but there was just no analysis, no synthesis. This is not so much the work of a historian than a gathering of research.

So, what does this book do well? It is a wonderful resource for someone wanting to know basic facts about the ways that the Spanish Inquisition and the Witch Hunts physically tortured and financially abused their victims. I'll keep it as a resource for my world history classes just for those topics.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Reviewed May 22, 2005.

This book can be found here on Amazon: Witch Hunt: History of a Persecution

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