The most recommended books about witch trials

Who picked these books? Meet our 19 experts.

19 authors created a book list connected to witch trials, and here are their favorite witch trial books.
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Book cover of Witch Hunting and Witch Trials

Malcolm Gaskill Author Of Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy

From my list on witch hunting in Britain and Europe.

Who am I?

I am an Emeritus Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. I taught history for many years at several UK universities, and I was the Director of Studies in History at Churchill College, Cambridge. I am the author of six books, including Hellish Nell: Last of Britain’s Witches and Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction. His latest book, The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World, will be published in November by Penguin. I live in Cambridge, England, and I am married with three children.

Malcolm's book list on witch hunting in Britain and Europe

Malcolm Gaskill Why did Malcolm love this book?

This was the book that got me started over thirty years ago, and which I still turn to today. It’s an absolute mine of information, specifically relating to the written indictments for witchcraft which survive in great numbers for the Home Assize Circuit – that is, the courts that heard felonies in south-eastern England.

Ewen doesn’t provide much in the way of analysis. There is a substantial, very useful, introduction, but the really incredible thing about this book is how Ewen managed to comb through the archives, then held in the Public Records Office in London, and find almost all of the witchcraft indictments hidden there. He was an amazing researcher, who provided raw data for subsequent generations of historians.

Among many findings that can be drawn from his research are that, outside the peculiar spike in trials in the mid-1640s (the subject of my book, Witchfinders), English witch-trials peaked…

By C L'Estrange Ewen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witch Hunting and Witch Trials as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1929, the author presents a formidable collection of facts, brought together in a scholarly manner. This is an examination of the general history of witchcraft, its changing laws and legal procedures, as well as methods of interrogation and punishment. This book must be considered an essential reference work for every student of witch lore.


Book cover of Imagining the Witch: Emotions, Gender, and Selfhood in Early Modern Germany

Lu Ann Homza Author Of Village Infernos and Witches' Advocates: Witch-Hunting in Navarre, 1608-1614

From my list on the trauma of European witch-hunting.

Who am I?

I am a historian of early modern Europe, with a research focus on Spain and Italy. I first encountered archival documents from the Spanish Inquisition during research for my first book: I was already a fan of religious history but quickly became a fan of studying the law. I am fascinated by the ways in which people between the 1500s and 1700s used the legal systems at their disposal to recapture honor and pursue enemies. I am always on the lookout for ways in which religious prescriptions from centralized authorities did not match what was happening on the ground with ordinary, usually illiterate people.

Lu's book list on the trauma of European witch-hunting

Lu Ann Homza Why did Lu love this book?

For the last twenty-five years, historians have been convinced that witch suspects drew on their personal histories as they confessed to being the Devil’s disciples.

Kounine flips that presumption on its head by asking how the processes of interrogations and torture might actually create a self-identity of being a witch, a category that was more flexible and nuanced than we might have expected.

By Laura Kounine,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Imagining the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Imagining the Witch explores emotions, gender, and selfhood through the lens of witch-trials in early modern Germany. Witch-trials were clearly a gendered phenomenon, but witchcraft was not a uniquely female crime. While women constituted approximately three quarters of those tried for witchcraft in the Holy Roman Empire, a significant minority were men. Witchcraft was also a crime of unbridled passion: it centred on the notion that one person's emotions
could have tangible and deadly physical consequences. Yet it is also true that not all suspicions of witchcraft led to a formal accusation, and not all witch-trials led to the stake.…


Book cover of The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish: Vengeance and Heresy in Medieval Ireland

Crawford Gribben Author Of The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland

From my list on Christianity in Ireland.

Who am I?

Like anyone else who takes an interest in Ireland, I’ve been fascinated by the long and often very difficult history of the island’s experience of religion. Where I live, in county Antrim, religious imagery appears everywhere – in churches and schools, obviously, but also on signboards posted onto trees, and in the colourful rags that are still hung up to decorate holy wells. This book is the fruit of twenty years of thinking about Christian Ireland - its long and difficult history, and its sudden and difficult collapse.

Crawford's book list on Christianity in Ireland

Crawford Gribben Why did Crawford love this book?

This book is an eye-opener. Callan investigates a sudden unexpected sequence of heresy trials that shook the Irish church in the fourteenth century. She uncovers all manner of badly behaving churchmen – from the mendacious to the cavalier – and highlights the experience of the women who were so often their victims. Callan argues that the heresy trials often mark out differences other than theological within the Irish church – and shows that two centuries after the Norman invasion, ethnic and cultural differences continued to destabilise its always fragile communion.

By Maeve Bridget Callan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Early medieval Ireland is remembered as the "Land of Saints and Scholars," due to the distinctive devotion to Christian faith and learning that permeated its culture. As early as the seventh century, however, questions were raised about Irish orthodoxy, primarily concerning Easter observances. Yet heresy trials did not occur in Ireland until significantly later, long after allegations of Irish apostasy from Christianity had sanctioned the English invasion of Ireland. In The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish, Maeve Brigid Callan analyzes Ireland's medieval heresy trials, which all occurred in the volatile fourteenth century. These include the celebrated case of…


Book cover of Jane-Emily: And Witches' Children

Kathryn Knight Author Of Ghost Moon

From my list on romantic ghost stories.

Who am I?

I’m a fan of all things spooky! I especially love ghost stories, which is probably abundantly clear from my own novels. I’ve been known to frequent old graveyards, seek out haunted places, and sneak into abandoned buildings for inspiration—and the adrenaline rush! This fascination started when I was a young girl and my dad brought me a YA ghost mystery home from the library—every week, he would have the librarian help him pick out books for me, and I would devour the stack immediately, then re-read until the next library day! My favorite ghost stories have a mix similar to what I write—a tension-filled romance combined with a spooky, suspenseful haunting. 

Kathryn's book list on romantic ghost stories

Kathryn Knight Why did Kathryn love this book?

Jane-Emily is a YA classic, both a sweet romance and a spooky ghost mystery, set in the early 1900s. 

It’s also the book I described in my introduction as the one that made me fall in love with this genre! I first read it when I was about ten, and I immediately recommended it to my best friend, who was also an avid reader. To this day, we are both still scared of those mirrored gazing balls people display in gardens.

When my own children were young, I bought an old paperback on eBay and read it to them, savoring the story that I’ve re-read so many times once again. Even after all these years, Emily’s ghost still delivers chills as she unleashes her wrath on the innocent nine-year-old Jane, and the romance developing between Jane’s young aunt and an old friend of the family plays a part.

One exciting…

By Patricia Clapp,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Jane-Emily as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Emily was a selfish, willful, hateful child who died before her thirteenth birthday. But that was a long time ago.

Jane is nine years old and an orphan when she and her young Aunt Louisa come to spend the summer at Jane's grandmother's house, a large, mysterious mansion in Massachusetts. Then one day . . . Jane stares into a reflecting ball in the garden—and the face that looks back at her is not her own.

Many years earlier, a child of rage and malevolence lived in this place. And she never left. Now Emily has dark plans for little…


Book cover of The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother

Joel F. Harrington Author Of The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century

From my list on the European witch craze.

Who am I?

I am the Centennial Professor of history at Vanderbilt University. I have been reading and teaching about witchcraft and the occult for over thirty years. This is a topic that never fails to engage people of all backgrounds and has generated a plethora of books, some good, many not. I look for authors who understand the passions, psychology, and experiences of both accusers and supposed witches, while also exploring what it is about certain societies that leads to such claims being taken seriously, often with fatal results. The books I picked vividly convey the reality of the witch craze, while also asking some probing questions about persecutions in general.  

Joel's book list on the European witch craze

Joel F. Harrington Why did Joel love this book?

The fascinating and moving story of the famous astronomer’s reluctant defense of his obstreperous mother, where not just his reputation but her life are at stake. We get an in-depth sense of how the combination of local animosities and popular superstitions gradually gather momentum over time until some tipping point brings them into the legal arena. I especially liked Rublack’s sympathetic portrayal of a famous scholar struggling with his own origins and sense of familial duty. A personal, family story, as early modern witchcraft cases often were. 

By Ulinka Rublack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Astronomer & the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was one of the most admired astronomers who ever lived and a key figure in the scientific revolution. A defender of Copernicuss sun-centred universe, he famously discovered that planets move in ellipses, and defined the three laws of planetary motion. Perhaps less well known is that in 1615, when Kepler was at the height of his career, his widowed mother Katharina was accused of witchcraft. The proceedings led to a criminal trial
that lasted six years, with Kepler conducting his mother's defence.

In The Astronomer and the Witch, Ulinka Rublack pieces together the tale of this extraordinary…


Book cover of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Nora Fussner Author Of The Invisible World

From my list on female protagonists who have magical powers.

Who am I?

When I was researching my novel, I learned why so many psychics are women: Spiritualism, founded in the 19th century, had both an intense following (more than 8 million followers in the late 1800s) and gave women equal importance to men, one of the few religions at the time (or since) to do so. Even today, women’s pain is dismissed by doctors disproportionately to that of men; women’s testimony is scrutinized more closely than that of men. I love books that invest women with abilities that seem super-human, perhaps as compensation for unequal access to resources. These books keep one foot in the real, one in the fantastic.

Nora's book list on female protagonists who have magical powers

Nora Fussner Why did Nora love this book?

I’ve been to Salem, Massachusetts; I’ve read Stacy Schiff’s book about the witch trials. We sometimes forget in the USA that there were witch trials in Europe, as well, such as the real one Galchen’s novel is based on.

In 17th century Germany, the mother of Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern astronomy, is accused of by a neighbor of witchcraft, sending the entire town into disarray. Although Galchen draws on historical documents, the narration feels contemporary, as neighbors use accusations of witchcraft as revenge for petty grievances.

I recommend this novel for anyone who checks Nextdoor for the tea.

By Rivka Galchen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The startling, witty, highly anticipated second novel from the critically acclaimed author of Atmospheric Disturbances.

The story begins in 1618, in the German duchy of Württemberg. Plague is spreading. The Thirty Years' War has begun, and fear and suspicion are in the air throughout the Holy Roman Empire. In the small town of Leonberg, Katharina Kepler is accused of being a witch.

Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbors for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It's…


Book cover of The Crucible

A.M. Kherbash Author Of Lesath

From my list on creepy titles you may have overlooked.

Who am I?

I grew up reading dark fiction, and the only two books I kept from that period were The Wicked Heart and Whisper of Death, both by Christopher Pike. Though both were categorized as horror, the first is a crime mystery that partly follows the murderer, while the latter feels like an episode out of The Twilight Zone. I never cared for pure horror, and a book doesn’t have to scare me for me to find them enjoyable. What I often wanted was a tangible sense of dread paired with insight into the human psyche, which I believe makes for a more potent reading experience. 

A.M.'s book list on creepy titles you may have overlooked

A.M. Kherbash Why did A.M. love this book?

How do witch hunts start? How do they keep? Who keeps them churning until all parties involved are dizzy, and only the accusers are innocent?

A group of girls in 1692 are caught dancing around a fire in the woods, trying to conjure spirits or cast spells. They discover they can escape retribution by blaming the slave, Tituba, which starts a slew of false accusations. Whenever the so-called prosecution comes close to the truth, whenever evidence is about to expose the girlselaborate lie, they scream, fall to hysterics amidst befuddled men, as if some witch is tormenting them, and so point out a fresh victim for the witch hounds to pursue. The biggest lark is that none of them are witches, and the only craft the girls weaved was condemning innocent lives to torture and eventually death. You have to wonder whos to blame here: Abigail…

By Arthur Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Crucible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based on historical people and real events, Arthur Miller's play uses the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence unleashed by the rumors of witchcraft as a powerful parable about McCarthyism.


Book cover of Witch Craze: Terror and Fantasy in Baroque Germany

Lu Ann Homza Author Of Village Infernos and Witches' Advocates: Witch-Hunting in Navarre, 1608-1614

From my list on the trauma of European witch-hunting.

Who am I?

I am a historian of early modern Europe, with a research focus on Spain and Italy. I first encountered archival documents from the Spanish Inquisition during research for my first book: I was already a fan of religious history but quickly became a fan of studying the law. I am fascinated by the ways in which people between the 1500s and 1700s used the legal systems at their disposal to recapture honor and pursue enemies. I am always on the lookout for ways in which religious prescriptions from centralized authorities did not match what was happening on the ground with ordinary, usually illiterate people.

Lu's book list on the trauma of European witch-hunting

Lu Ann Homza Why did Lu love this book?

No one does a better job of explaining the links between witchcraft accusations and fears over fertility than Roper.

Her ability to connect witches’ stereotypical activities—murder, cannibalism, sex with the Devil, and so on—with the demographic and subsistence crises of early modern Germany is remarkable.

She is an incredibly sensitive reader of primary sources.

By Lyndal Roper,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Witch Craze as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful account of witches, crones, and the societies that make them

From the gruesome ogress in Hansel and Gretel to the hags at the sabbath in Faust, the witch has been a powerful figure of the Western imagination. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries thousands of women confessed to being witches-of making pacts with the Devil, causing babies to sicken, and killing animals and crops-and were put to death. This book is a gripping account of the pursuit, interrogation, torture, and burning of witches during this period and beyond.

Drawing on hundreds of original trial transcripts and other rare…


Book cover of The Mercies

Craig Shreve Author Of One Night in Mississippi

From my list on based on little known moments in history.

Who am I?

I love the challenge of taking a headline, a photo, or a curious little footnote in someone else's history, and fleshing out all the details to make it a full-blown story. Here are five books where I think this task has been taken to entirely other levels.

Craig's book list on based on little known moments in history

Craig Shreve Why did Craig love this book?

In 1617, the Scandinavian village of Vardo was hit by a storm so sudden and so violent that almost all the men on the island were lost. Hargrave’s brilliant novel shows how the women of Vardo pull together in the face of such devastation. However, their recovery is threatened by Scandinavian authorities who see a village run by women as a threat that cannot be tolerated. Hargrave’s characters feel as if they could belong in any place and at any time, which puts you in the uncomfortable position of wondering how much (or how little) we’ve really progressed.

By Kiran Millwood Hargrave,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mercies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Historically, the mass media have marginalized women's sports by devoting more coverage to men's sports and trying to appeal to a male audience. This volume analyzes the mass media's portrayal of women's sports. The Olympic Games are highlighted because they provide one of the few sports arenas where women's participation is heavily covered, promoted, and celebrated. The author suggests the media are recognizing the significance of female spectatorship and are attempting to respond to this growing audience by adopting some of the rhetorical and textual characteristics of soap opera and melodrama.


Book cover of The Salem Witch Hunt: A Brief History with Documents

Lu Ann Homza Author Of Village Infernos and Witches' Advocates: Witch-Hunting in Navarre, 1608-1614

From my list on the trauma of European witch-hunting.

Who am I?

I am a historian of early modern Europe, with a research focus on Spain and Italy. I first encountered archival documents from the Spanish Inquisition during research for my first book: I was already a fan of religious history but quickly became a fan of studying the law. I am fascinated by the ways in which people between the 1500s and 1700s used the legal systems at their disposal to recapture honor and pursue enemies. I am always on the lookout for ways in which religious prescriptions from centralized authorities did not match what was happening on the ground with ordinary, usually illiterate people.

Lu's book list on the trauma of European witch-hunting

Lu Ann Homza Why did Lu love this book?

Godbeer’s introductory essay to this collection of primary sources is a model of clarity and up-to-date findings about America’s most famous witch hunt.

His scholarship has all the right pieces: attention to the often young female accusers, an exposition of how and why Puritanism highlighted the diabolical as a constant fear, and an assessment of potential failures of masculinity among the accused men.

By Richard Godbeer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Salem Witch Hunt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Get a clearer understanding of why the Salem Witch Trials actually took place as Salem Witch Hunt explores how gender norms, social tensions, and the Puritan's worldview influenced this infamous period in colonial history.