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Summary

For centuries in Europe, innocent men and women were murdered for the imaginary crime of witchcraft. This was a mass delusion and moral panic, driven by pious superstition and a deadly commitment to religious conformity. In Witch: A Tale of Terror, best-selling author Sam Harris introduces and reads from Charles Mackay's beloved book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Public Domain (P)2016 Sam Harris

What members say

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  • Lee
  • Ireland
  • 05-04-17

Well read and well worth a listen

Sam Harris provides a superb narration of a recap of the witch hunts in Europe, as written by Charles Mackay.

If you've a passing interest in the history of witch craft or the hysteria surrounding it, this book prides a short by instructive introduction to the history and facts of the time

It is well worth a listen, and while short, actually pretty well formed as a tight introduction.

Very good - and Sam Harris is a great narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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brilliant, horrifying

had to listen in two sittings because it's heavy stuff, hilarious and depressing in equal parts! brilliantly read

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting, well narrated

I am accustomed to Sam Harris’ voice through his Waking Up podcast, so I knew what to expect from the narrator - very clear, not too emotional, good pace, easy for anyone who speaks English as a second or third (or more) language to understand, but not too slow for an English mother-tongue speaker.

The story itself is of a very interesting (for us now - it must have been a horrible period at the time) passage of time when witch craft seemed so real to everyone and for some reason people even incriminated themselves by telling fantastical tales. And then of course there were self-righteous, sadistic witchfinders.... it sounds all too modern day again when you think of the Jordanian pilot burnt alive in Syria, the polygamous woman apparently buried to her neck and stoned to death by Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the way people who leave cults like Scientologists, Mormom and Christian sects get harrassment and all ties to families cut. I guess that’s why Sam Harris came up with the good idea of telling this story anew for the modern audience. I really enjoyed it, while wincing at the sadism and misguidedness.

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Witch

The title says it all. A fantastic exploration of humankinds superstitious madness and malice. excellent

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Interesting history lesson

A really interesting history lesson on a topic I knew very little about, if not for for certain Monty Python sketches.

Only real drawback for me was.that it didn't draw any relevant comparisons to modern day behaviour, or properly explore the phycology behind the phenomenon.

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Very good

Interesting historical narrative. Well narrated by Sam Harris. Hope to hear more of this kind of audio book in the future.

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not bad but not what I was expecting

I didn't do a thorough research on the contents of this book and thought it was going to be more like a reflection on the subject and analogies with the present, which is what I was mistakenly expecting. It's's more like a very descriptive encyclopedia of the horrors of witch-hunts. in that sense I can't give a relevant review as I'm not fond of the subject

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Great read.

Hard to listen to, the descriptions sometimes, but another great choice, by the Jedi of Philosophy, Sam Harris.

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  • aspidistra
  • 25-02-17

more Sam, please

What made the experience of listening to Witch: A Tale of Terror the most enjoyable?

Sam's choices from the text, and delightful reading.

Any additional comments?

I'd like to encourage Sam to do more short audiobooks like this where he excerpts some of his favorite books, does a preface, and then reads selections. I'd buy them all.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Karl Boone
  • 25-02-17

Interesting and informative

If you could sum up Witch: A Tale of Terror in three words, what would they be?

Shocking and horrifying

What was one of the most memorable moments of Witch: A Tale of Terror?

Covers in grim detail a dark and superstitious era in Europe that happened from the 12th to late into the 17th century.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

What really surprised me was that the crusaders were charged for witch craft, and later Joan of Arc. Along with the inhumanly way self-proclaimed morale people treated those accused of a non-crime. Along with the ways they used a "holy" book to justify their cruelty.

Any additional comments?

It's an informative book to listen to and Sam Harris does a great job imparting the information in the book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • A Stevens
  • 25-02-17

An uncomfortable reminder of the power of belief

This well-produced audiobook is introduced and read by author & neuroscientist, Sam Harris, who is also host of the very popular 'Waking Up' podcast. Harris' experience as a podcast host, reader of the audiobook versions of several of his own books and leading light across a diverse field of important public conversations and debates shines through in his measured yet compelling reading.

The subject material concerns the 'Witch Mania' of Early Modern Europe, as described by Charles Mackay in his seminal 1841 book, 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds'. The quality of Mackay's writing is excellent and the detailed picture he paints of this extraordinarily tragic (and often gruesome) period (which for Mackay - and even, to some extent, for us now - was relatively recent) conveys in almost palpable terms the ability of individuals and societies to drive themselves into an ever-deeper ditch of terrible suffering when the wheels of their beliefs (which drive their behaviour and much of their experience of the world) run-off the rails of reason.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Jon
  • 21-01-17

Couldn't stop listening!!!

Well written, well read, overall - great work!

I think it is very important to keep these accounts of suffering in the name of superstition available to our society, in an effort to rid our species of these atrocities in the future.

Once again, Sam Harris has produced an account of factual evidence that so clearly demonstrates the power of belief.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Neuron
  • 28-12-17

Only witches talk to themselves…

This is an excerpt from the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay. He wrote this book in 1841, almost 200 years ago. Based on the excerpt, the title more or less says it all. The book, which has a slightly catalog-esque feel to it, describes a number of cases where a person, usually a woman or a girl, was accused of being a witch. It also gives you a brief history of witch hunts - from its peak in the beginning of the 17th century to the end in the late 18th century (although in some countries people still believe in witches).

It is entertaining in - a macabre kind of way – to read about the witch trials. Although I have read a fair amount about witches, I am still amazed every time I read about the trials. Witness accounts in which someone claimed to have seen a cat that looked like the accused were taken seriously. Experts claimed that if you talk at loud to yourself then you are definitively possessed by a demon and must, therefore, be a witch. I am guessing that to some extent the witch hunts were a way to satisfy the crowd's lust for blood and their desire for vengeance over the extreme hardships in their life. We should keep this in mind today when people on social media seem to think that they are better jurors than the people working within the judicial system.

If you want a brief introduction to the history of the witch-hunt, with a European bias, then this book is a good buy. However, you can get more detailed accounts (remember that this is an excerpt) and while the book has a Sam Harris feel to it, only small parts of it were actually authored by him.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Stew81
  • 29-08-17

Interesting short listen

Any additional comments?

I really enjoyed that a lot of this was taken from actual newspaper articles, journals, and letters. I like the way people wrote back then and it makes the book that much more credible.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • azfatboy
  • 28-02-17

Interesting content, but no analysis or conclusion

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

There really was no ending. Sam just stopped talking. It didn't feel like there was any closing thoughts.

Any additional comments?

There was definitely a missed opportunity here, perhaps in an epilogue by Sam himself, to analyze the "witch-hunt" mentality, and those aspects of religion that not only allowed it blaze uncontrollably just a couple centuries ago, to the exact same credulities that are not only alive, but thriving today. Indeed, that is what the entire focus of this book SHOULD HAVE BEEN. The history of the witch-hunts was interesting, but are there lessons learned from the past that can help us now? With the "witch-hunts" that are STILL GOING ON TODAY? Perhaps not, but this book has greatly missed it potential by forgoing the attempt.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jacomien de Klerk
  • 05-02-17

Unconscionable Christianity - Burning Women

Sam Harris found this and reads it to illustrate a point - how presumably good people do the most terrible things in the name of their religious beliefs. Shocking, mortifying, stomach-turning, and more relevant than ever in these theocratic times. Five stars on every count.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Oskar
  • 18-01-17

Very interesting. Perfectly narrated by Sam Harris

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This book is funny in parts but overall the context and content of the stories of witch hunt in Europe are fantastically tragic. The elaborate voice of Sam Harris is perfect for this absurd tale of superstition.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Fred
  • 24-01-17

People Are Frightening

The cruelty that humans have endured is beyond depressing. We've come along way, but this book shows what humans are capable of. The recent support for Donald Trump is baffling, but less so after listening to this book. Reason is not always the strongest impulse.
The story gets a bit repetitive as it documents many cases of bizarre barbaric stupidity. I’m not sure how much Harris edited the language, but the writing is great, and Harris is well-suited to read it.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful