A long time ago I (by accident) saw this book carried by Terry Gilliam in the 'Spanish Inquisition' sketch by Monty Python. You can spot it under his arm as he gets up from his seat in the bus at the end. Realizing that this has very little do to with the actual review of this book, it nonetheless will tell you that I recognized the cover of the book when walking around in an old bookstore in Boston, grabbed it, and within 2 minutes of reading and skimming I decided that it was worth the $18.00 it cost. It was probably one of the best bargains I ever found, and opened my eyes tremendously.
As the title implies we're talking about an encyclopedia, not a detailed and chronological book, but this did not hamper the book's ability to get inside my head, and touch it in a way that redefined the medieval picture I carried around with me. After spending a few hours going through the book, and picking out specific passages, I realized that I knew nothing about how people were treated not THAT long ago, when someone else accused them of witchcraft, and how hard (impossible) it was to prove ones innocence. A story in the encyclopedia tells of how a woman, owning a black cat was hanged, accused of witchcraft, for 'making' her neighbour's tea taste bad.
If you wish to have just some idea of how impossible it was to prove your innocence, once you were thought a witch, Luc Besson's 'Messenger: Joan of Arc', and the Blackadder episode 'Witchsmeller Pursouivant' will give you an idea of the hopelessness some of the accused must've felt.
The most horrible aspect of the book is the descriptions of how people were tortured back in those days. The only thing we can do is learn from books such as these to insure that such stupidity and ignorance won't be allowed to occur again. The book also has information on specific European and other countries, so you can locate your own country to see just how bad things were in Europe several hundred years ago. That these things are still happening in many other parts of the world, is something we should do something more about, since many of the uneducated countries still practice torture and inhuman deaths. Not that any death, ordered by other sentient beings, is human, in my opinion.
The people who refuse to open books such as these, because they, among many other things, tell of the instruction manuals inquisitors could consult when dealing with witches (the Malleus Maleficarum is one), must ask themselves if they are doing so, because they find such information irrelevant and frightening. Of course it's frightening, but hardly irrelevant. It's when you turn your back on these things, that they have a chance of happening. So educate yourself about how not to behave, when someone sitting close to you is stroking a bad cat and your tea suddenly tastes bad.
I'm not saying that we have to be paranoid at all, but a good portion of common sense, spiced with decency and awareness, will no doubt yield a mix that will prevent such terrible events from happening again.
And if you can't find this book at amazon.com, try older bookstores. Where I found mine in Boston, another copy was also present!