The Ruin of All Witches

Listen to a sample

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.


In the frontier town of Springfield in 1651, peculiar things begin to happen. Precious food spoils, livestock ails and property vanishes. People suffer fits and are plagued by strange visions and dreams. Children sicken and die. As tensions rise, rumours spread of witches and heretics, and the community becomes tangled in a web of spite, distrust and denunciation. The finger of suspicion falls on a young couple struggling to make a home and feed their children: Hugh Parsons the irascible brickmaker and his troubled wife, Mary. It will be their downfall.

The Ruin of All Witches tells the dark, real-life folktale of witch-hunting in a remote Massachusetts plantation. These were the turbulent beginnings of colonial America, when English settlers’ dreams of love and liberty, of founding a ‘city on a hill’, gave way to paranoia and terror, enmity and rage. Drawing on uniquely rich, previously neglected source material, Malcolm Gaskill brings to life a New World existence steeped in the divine and the diabolic, in curses and enchantments, and precariously balanced between life and death.

Through the gripping micro-history of a family tragedy, we glimpse an entire society caught in agonized transition between supernatural obsessions and the age of enlightenment. We see, in short, the birth of the modern world.

‘The best and most enjoyable kind of history writing’ Hilary Mantel

‘A bona fide historical classic’ Sunday Times

Simply one of the best history books I have ever read’ BBC History
‘A great story, exquisitely told. This book is history at its illuminative best’ The Times

‘As compelling as a campfire story … Gaskill brings this sinister past vividly to life’ Erica Wagner, Financial Times

© Malcolm Gaskill 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2022

Critics Review

  • A bona fide historical classic … Historical writing of the very highest class, impeccably researched and written with supreme imagination and wisdom.

    Sunday Times
  • Unforgettable … Whether you read The Ruin of All Witches for a startling insight into another age, or see its portrait of mob hysteria and witch-hunts as darkly analogous to our own uneasy times, this is one of those rare history books that stays with you and haunts you long after you have turned the last page. Superb.

    Sunday Times
  • Breathtaking … a great story, exquisitely told. I had to reread certain sentences aloud, just to savour their insight and cadence … This book is history at its illuminative best.

    The Times
  • The narrative is as compelling as a campfire story … This is deeply atmospheric writing, carefully sourced … As with the best history, the lessons of Springfield’s past may serve to inform the citizens of a still-divided and conflicted nation.

    Financial Times
  • Evocative right from the start, the reader is drawn in and excited in both body and mind … It’s a feast … a valuable gift to every reader of history.

    BBC History Magazine
  • A portrait of a community during one of the first Puritan witch panics in the New World – and a timeless study of how paranoia, superstition and social unrest fuel fantasies … Mr Gaskill’s immersive approach brings the fate of his subjects movingly to life.

    The Economist

More from the same

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to get tailored content recommendations, product updates and info on new releases. Your data is your own: we commit to protect your data and respect your privacy.