Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Devil’s Best Trick

How the Face of Evil Disappeared

by Randall Sullivan

Part true crime story, part religious and literary history, an investigation into the nature of evil and the figure of the Devil by acclaimed journalist Randall Sullivan

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date May 14, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1913-1
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $30.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date May 14, 2024
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-6290-8
  • US List Price $30.00

Throughout history, humans have struggled to explain the evils of the world and the darkest parts of ourselves. The Devil’s Best Trick is a unique and far-reaching investigation into evil and the myriad ways we attempt to understand it – particularly through the figure of the Devil.

Sullivan’s narrative moves through centuries of historical, religious, and cultural conceptions of evil and the Devil: from the Mesopotamian and Egyptian gods to the Book of Job to the New Testament to the witch hunts in Europe in the 15th through 17th centuries to the history of the devil-worshipping “Black Mass” ceremony and its depictions in 19th-century French literature. He references major literary, religious and historical figures, from the Persian sages Zoroaster and Mani, Plato, Thomas Aquinas, John Milton, Edgar Allan Poe, Aleister Crowley, and many more, among them Charles Baudelaire, from whose work Sullivan took the title of the book.

But this is not just a cultural history – Sullivan intersperses original reporting and personal reflection. He travels to Catemaco, Mexico, to participate in the “Hour of the Witches” — an annual ceremony in which hundreds of people congregate in the jungle south of Vera Cruz to negotiate terms with El Diablo. He takes us through the most famous and best-documented exorcism in American history, which occurred in 1928 and lasted four months. He ponders the psychology of evil through his encounter with one brutal serial killer and he reports on the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, detailing the shocking story of a small town in Texas that, one summer in 1988, unraveled into paranoia after a seventeen-year-old boy was found hanging from the branch of a horse apple tree and rumors about cult worship spread throughout the wider community.

Randall Sullivan, whose reportage and narrative skill has been called “extraordinary” and “enthralling” by Rolling Stone, takes on a bold task in this book that is both biography of the Devil and a look at how evil manifests in the world.

Praise for The Devil’s Best Trick:

“A master class in the difficult art of first-person, narrative nonfiction… The prose has wonderful momentum even when he’s writing about arcane debates in the early Christian church. Each chapter is a turn, a surprise. The writing is never clichéd, nor is the thinking. Sullivan knows a great lede, and he’s just as good with cliffhangers.”–Clancy Martin, New York Times Book Review

“A compelling journey into the heart of darkness with an articulate, capable guide.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A gonzo and sometimes chilling account . . . The book’s most entertaining writing is memoiristic . . . with self-deprecating humor, but what holds it all together is a sincere yearning to understand evil. It’s a dizzying plunge into darkness in search of moral clarity.”—Publishers Weekly

“The devil does exist, though his best trick is to convince us he does not, Sullivan believes. His well argued book will intrigue both skeptics and true believers.”—Booklist

Praise for Randall Sullivan:

“A strikingly rendered tale of the hard and lasting costs of courage.”Kirkus (starred review)

“Sullivan thoroughly details a case fraught with tension, complexity, and many key figures . . . Intensive, engaging investigative journalism.”Library Journal on Dead Wrong

“Sullivan has done what every aspiring true-crime writer hopes to do: He has crossed the line from titillation into cultural history.”Los Angeles Times on The Price of Experience

“The most thorough examination of these much-publicized events. Exhaustively researched, the book methodically weaves a disturbing story of corruption, intimidation, and murder.”Boston Globe on LAbyrinth