Customer Reviews: The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox
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on September 4, 2011
I purchased Nina Burleigh's fine book having only limited knowledge of the facts and circumstances surrounding the the tragic, horrific murder of Meredith Kercher, an English exchange student studying in Perugia, Italy, on a prestigious ERASMUS scholarship.

I can tell you unequivocally that I'm glad I bought and read this book. It is an outstanding piece of investigative writing containing a thorough, credible analysis of a most troubling series of events. It is also a damn fine page-turner of a read.

With only limited exposure to media coverage of the murder, ensuing investigation and trials, I was very puzzled and troubled by the case. I wanted to know more about what could possibly have driven two or three persons to commit such an unspeakable act. Was it drugs, sex, ritualistic pagan deeds, or something else? The murder, and ensuing police investigation and trials, were portrayed in a made-for-TV movie I saw recently and which upset me greatly. I was at first very angry about Amanda Knox and her boy friend, especially as they were portrayed in the TV movie. They struck me as trivial, hash-addled bone-heads, possibly murderers to boot. The movie, however, was low-grade in quality and lacking in credible analysis. I could not put my finger on it, but something about the entire case didn't feel "right" to me. Unsatisfied, and in after a restless a night or two following the TV movie on the case, I bought Nina Burleigh's book.

Nina offers a very thorough, well-researched, and provocative analysis of the case and players at all levels: the scene in Perugia, the university town in which the murder occurred; the victim and her flat mates; the three acccused and convicted of the crime; the Italian magistrate responsible for both investigating and trying the case; the police and crime lab personnel; the Italian legal system; the lawyers on all sides; the witnesses; and affected family members.

The book addresses the importance of context in this case. Context is crucial to understanding what happened and the likely reasons why each of the events along the way played out as they did. Absent an understaning of context the events in Perugia are so puzzling as to be beyond comprehension. That is why I slept fitfully after viewing the TV movie. The case made no sense to me.

The author does an outstanding job detailing and dissecting the context of the case. She includes discussion of how Ms. Knox's strange behavior informed the investigation, the motivations driving the prosecutor, the 3 accused of the crime, the media, and other, key players in the saga. The reader is thereby armed with all of the tools necessary to understand what went down the night of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

The author also skillfull reviews and critiques the tangible evidence, explaining in detail the strengths as well as the apparent weaknesses in the prosecution's case.

Reading this book helped me understand what most likely happened when Meredith Kercher was murdered. One is able to more readily comprehend the ensuing investigation and the culminating trials. The author's discussion of related topics central to context, including the still evolving role of women in Italian culture, the impact of religion on the case, and differences between the Italian and American justice systems, provide valuable insights. The author skillfully demonstrates in chapter after chapter her own gravitas as a writer and analyst.

Having practiced law for over 33 years in the United States, I can tell you from experience a case that makes no sense is every lawyer's worst dream. Thanks to Nina for writing a book that illuminates a most vexing case, one that is tragic on many levels.

We can only hope that justice will be done in the still-pending Knox and Sollecito appeals.
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on October 31, 2011
I get the feeling that Nina Burleigh doesn't much like Amanda Knox. In an interview with Red Room, she was asked to list five words describing the girl. Burleigh chose "Childlike. Naïve. Passive. Callous. Oblivious." Not a redeeming adjective in the bunch. In "The Fatal Gift of Beauty," Burleigh describes Amanda as narcissistic, loud, jealous of the more sophisticated Meredith Kercher, and someone with "father issues." Not especially even or balanced (though to her credit, the author does dispel myths that Amanda's sexual history was over-the-top and occasionally almost sympathizes with the girl). However, despite the fact that Burleigh seems as annoyed by Amanda as Meredith's British friends were, she presents a compelling, logical, measured case for the young woman's innocence. And she does it in a well-written, well researched, interesting narrative. For that, Burleigh should be commended.

I went back and forth, trying to decide if this was a three- or four-star book. (I wish 3.5 were a choice.) On the one hand, it's interesting, a really good read, and includes some fantastic research. On the other, it's sensationalist in parts and no more unbiased than the Foxy Knoxy articles in the Daily Mail, the Knox/Mellas family's glowing portrayals (which, for the record, don't actually bother me; your mom and dad should always think you're wonderful), or the British girls' slams. As much as I've read about this case and its central figure, I'm still baffled by the fact that Amanda Knox seems to provoke such extreme reactions in people. Maybe it's simply because the situation she found herself in was so extreme. Maybe it really is because she was so "outside the norm," and since I live in the liberal, hippie West myself, she doesn't seem strange to me at all. Regardless, I suspect that more than a she-devil, narcissist, or angel child, Amanda was just a normal 20-year-old, liberal, American college kid: compassionate, self-absorbed, loving, insecure, adventurous, impatient, curious, funny, melodramatic, smart, and trying to find her way in a world that excited, scared, and at times probably angered or irritated her. I'm still waiting for the book that portrays her through that kind of realistic lens.

One more thing, because others have commented on it: Under most circumstances, I would agree that bringing Meredith's sexual history or drug use into a story about who killed her would be irrelevant and appalling. But under these circumstances, when the press and prosecutors made such a point of completely demonizing one girl and venerating the other, learning that, when it came to sex and drugs, the gulf between Amanda and Meredith wasn't as wide as prosecutors would like us to think is very, very interesting. And it makes me wonder yet again, as I have many times: What if Meredith's Italian boyfriend had stayed in Perugia that long holiday weekend and Amanda's had left town? What if Amanda had been home and was killed and Meredith had found the body? Would Meredith's British reserve have saved her? Would her father's press contacts have helped, and would we vilify him for using them? Would the British consulate have swooped in, or would it have left her high and dry like the Americans did for Amanda? And most importantly, would we be talking today about that poor British girl and her Italian boyfriend who were railroaded, manipulated, and locked up for no reason instead of the American one?
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on October 10, 2011
I found Ms Burleigh's depiction of how traditional misogyny and the mysterious faith-shrouded history of Perugia, including references to ancient paganism, conservative religious dogma, interrogation techniques of the Inquisition, conspiracy theories and even the mafia all could have played into the psychology of this tragic crime absolutely fascinating. Her description of this picturesque, Umbrian hilltop city with its medieval palaces, winding streets and eerie maze of alleys gives a strong gothic flavor to this story.

Amanda Knox, a naive, scholarly, slightly "hippy-flavored" young woman went to Perugia to steep herself in Italian culture and to become proficient in the language. Sadly for her and just two short months after she arrived in Perugia, she got caught in a Kafkaesque web spun by the Perugian authorities, specifically the pathological prosecutor, Guiliano Mignini who controlled her journey through the perilous labyrinth that is the Perugian justice system.

Ms Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito became the second and third victims in a burglary that turned into the brutal, bloody rape and murder of Meredith Kercher, a beautiful British Erasmus Scholar and Amanda's friend and roommate. Despite the fact that all evidence pointed to Rudy Guede, a knife wielding transient with a history of break-ins and burglary as the sole perpetrator, Amanda and Raffaele were tried, convicted and imprisoned along with Guede. Their conviction was based on the sexual fantasies and satanic cult obsessions of prosecutor Mignini as well as the false forensic evidence of Patrizia Stefanoni and the collaboration of the trial judge and the Perugian police.

I do disagree with Ms Burleigh's take on the Knox family. Fifty percent of marriages in the US end in divorce so I don't really see Curt and Edda's divorce as being relevant to this case. Although there may have been stress for the kids and some bitter feelings, they seem to have made the best of it and the girls from both sides were being raised as close friends. I think if I were in trouble in a foreign country and needed support, I could not find better than Curt Knox or Edda and Chris Mellas. I also don't buy that Amanda was jealous of Meredith. They may not have been BFF's, but I think they were casually fond of one another and neither had particularly negative feelings about the other.

This book was written and published prior to the conclusion of the appeals process. It's certainly apparent to me that Ms Burleigh believes Amanda and Raffaele to be innocent and they have since been declared completely "innocent" (as opposed to "acquitted for lack of evidence") by the appeals court's presiding judge and jury, and have been release from prison.

I recommend this book and if you have further questions about this case, you should also read Bruce Fisher's "Injustice in Perugia" and for a layman's understanding of the forensic case (or lack of it), Dr. Mark Waterbury's "The Monster of Perugia" is very helpful. I also recommend "The Monster of Florence" by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi for a chilling portrait of the obsessed mind of Guiliano Migini.
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on December 15, 2014
This was a very good book, and the title was a masterstroke, as it is from Lord Byron in referring to Italy! ("Italia! Italia! Thou who hast the fatal gift of beauty.") The book "The Fatal Gift of Beauty" is a well-written account of the miscarriage of justice concerning Amanda Knox, and Rafaelle Sollecito, I like the way the book ended by talking about what can be learned from this very unfortunate situation. I am sure that four years is an eternity to spend in prison when someone is innocent, and the drama continues on. I pray for a very positive ending to this story. I admire Amanda Knox, Rafaelle Sollecito...and Nina Burleigh, very much.
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on July 6, 2014
I did not know much about the case before I started the book. I knew that Knox and Sollecito had been accused of murder in a sex game gone wrong, and that some Americans who had followed the trial more closely than I had felt an injustice had been done. I have no reason to believe the book withholds inculpatory evidence except for the facts that Knox was convicted and re-convicted and Kercher's family believes she did it. I take Kercher's family's belief very seriously, since they more than anyone would have an interest making sure the correct killer was behind bars. (Even someone falsely accused more wants to prove her innocence than find the guilty party, except insofar as finding the guilty party establishes her innocence.) Aside from that hesitation, Burleigh makes a strong case that there was indeed a miscarriage of justice.

The book clearly lays out the case, and it is almost impossible not to believe Burleigh's conclusion that not only is there reasonable doubt that Knox murdered Kercher, but it is beyond reasonable doubt that she is innocent.

The book's particular strength is in explaining to Americans just how strange Knox's behavior was according to Italian mores, and thus how Italians could be so convinced that she did it. Knox's behavior is even a bit strange to Americans, but I have known a couple of hippie types (including one from Seattle who went to UW and was very beautiful in a no-make-up way) who are like Knox: slightly tomboyish; flirtatious without realizing the full implications of their flirtations; extremely afraid of having or seeing strong negative emotions like grief, fear, and anger; slow to understand the range of emotions others are experiencing. Burleigh employs helpful comparisons to explain certain things, like how people in the U.K. see her as sort of a Casey Anthony: a beautiful unrepentant party girl. Similarly, the book does a good job explaining how Italian views on women (and, for that matter, international views on women) indirectly caused Knox's arrest and conviction, as well as the celebrity her case received - a modern day witch trial.

Another strength of the book is her cool yet sympathetic view of Knox. She explains much of Knox's behavior as far from atypical for a college student. I'm a professor and spend most of my days with 20-year-olds, and I agree. Yet she hardly seems totally won over by Knox, and her depiction of an immature and emotionally unsophisticated woman not only makes her defense of Knox more plausible, it provides an explanation for how her arrest and conviction could have occurred.

I would have appreciated a deeper understanding of Kercher, who comes across as something of a cipher. I understand that the author didn't have the same access to Kercher's family, but one would think that somewhere there was information she could have accessed.

Overall, one of the best true crime books I've read, and one that gives a broader cultural context for the reaction to the crime.
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on April 1, 2015
Italy has finally judged her innocent which this book makes very evident. I found the reading fun along with the very sad tragedy of the death of an innocent young girl and two young people that talked their way into jail for a crime they did not commit. Most of us cannot imagine being caught up in such a net of injustice, in a foreign country, and a million miles from home. It's scary. A true crime story worth reading.
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on August 21, 2011
This is a remarkably well researched, informed, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book. There is a wealth of fascinating background information on Italy, Perugia and its culture, the defendants, and the prosecutors. A lot of this information was new to me although I have read eight other books on this tragic murder and the subsequent trial.

The work deserves to be regarded as an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the case, along with 'Murder in Italy' by Candace Dempsey, 'Injustice in Perugia' by Bruce Fisher, and 'The Monster of Perugia' by Mark Waterbury.

The book is so well researched that it sometimes reads a bit like a doctoral thesis, but a highly readable and interesting one. Ms Burleigh does indeed present a thesis in the book regarding the dynamics behind the prosecution and the verdict.

It is clear from many sources that a terrible miscarriage of justice has taken place and that two young innocent people, Amanda and Raffaele, have been wrongly convicted.

I hope that this will be rectified very soon.
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on June 21, 2013
Didn't follow the Knox trial or read much about her except a NY Times review of her memoir. The review mentioned (praised) Nina Burleigh's book and it didn't disappoint. Less about Knox herself than about the cultural and religious matrix of Perugia in which Knox found herself, Burleigh offers up a riveting cautionary tale of an immature and rather foolish American girl who 'hooked up' with an equally naive and clueless young man (Knox's lover Sollecito) and their hash-hazed inability to understand the situation in which they found themselves. Burleigh's thorough examination of the Italian criminal justice system and the key players at the trial are outstanding journalism, far more interesting than Knox herself. Brava for Burleigh, who wades carefully and unsensationalistically through the deep waters of misinformation and confusion that swamped this trial. She comes up with a book that all parents of college students studying abroad would want to read.
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on June 18, 2014
Nina Burleigh's The Fatal Gift of Beauty-The Trials of Amanda Knox, is a down and out incredible read, and for those of you who have made up your minds about Amanda Knox's guilt or innocence, you need to bow your heads and plead for mercy, this book is an eye opener. Brilliantly written and researched, Burleigh takes the reader on a startling ride, guiding and winding us through the interwoven fabric of Amanda'a family, friends, and the complex array of her personal demons, lusts and fears. Not so fast, for in addition, this book delves into the personal lives of all the players, from her lover to her prosecutor, from the demonic Rudy Guede to the tragic victim of a viciously brutal murder, Meredith Kercher-- their vices, their passions and their prejudices, and it all happens under the banner of a glorious Italian country town, Perugia, where the culture is xenophobic, illustrious and historically rich. It matters not that the verdicts are in, by Italian standards anyway, for this is a yarn unfolding, and The Fatal Gift of Beauty rests in the lap of the curious. Take this book to bed, enter a maze of innocence, sophistication, charm, beauty, evil, intelligence, innuendo and circumstance, and when you come out at the other end of this tunnel, you will rethink your trust in foreign justice and the stability of american pride on foreign soil; you will realize that you never knew Amanda Knox at all. A fabulous read by an enormously gifted writer.
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on April 3, 2015
You will get an analysis on crime, clash of cultures, and the media that led to a poor young girl and her boyfriend to lose four years of their life. It looks at the facts of the case, the evidence and science verses the superstitions and media circus that clashed and rail roaded Amanda Knox
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