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A Trial by Jury [Kindle Edition]

D. Graham Burnett
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

When Princeton historian D. Graham Burnett answered his jury duty summons, he expected to spend a few days catching up on his reading in the court waiting room. Instead, he finds himself thrust into a high-pressure role as the jury foreman in a Manhattan trial. There he comes face to face with a stunning act of violence, a maze of conflicting evidence, and a parade of bizarre witnesses. But it is later, behind the closed door of the jury room, that he encounters the essence of the jury experience — he and eleven citizens from radically different backgrounds must hammer consensus out of confusion and strong disagreement. By the time he hands over the jury’s verdict, Burnett has undergone real transformation, not just in his attitude toward the legal system, but in his understanding of himself and his peers.

Offering a compelling courtroom drama and an intimate and sometimes humorous portrait of a fractious jury, A Trial by Jury is also a finely nuanced examination of law and justice, personal responsibility and civic duty, and the dynamics of power and authority between twelve equal people.


From the Trade Paperback edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Historian D. Graham Burnett writes about his experience as the foreman of the jury in a murder trial in New York City, what he calls "the most intense sixty-six hours of my life." There was nothing especially spectacular about the case; it was not a famous one, and while A Trial by Jury holds interest, it's not a John Grisham potboiler. Yet Burnett uses the experience to illuminate the heavy responsibilities of jury duty and all the maddening frustrations associated with determining something as deceptively simple as reasonable doubt.

"The jury room is a remarkable--and largely inaccessible--space in our society, a space where ideas, memories, virtues, and prejudices clash with the messy stuff of the big, bad world," Burnett writes in this elegant chronicle. His primary characters--his fellow jury members--come alive on these pages: "a clutch of strangers yelled, cursed, rolled on the floor, vomited, whispered, embraced, sobbed, and invoked both God and necromancy." He grows to like some, and "loathe" others. ("Are there some citizens not clearly able to distinguish daytime television from daily life?" he asks at one point.) Parts of the book are funny, as when he describes the small steps he took to encourage the trial lawyers to strike him out of the jury pool: "I promised to give any healthy prosecutor hives. I brought along a copy of The New York Review of Books just in case." Alas, Burnett found himself in the courtroom, and eventually he became foreman. This allows him to wrestle through the contradictory evidence presented by both sides--and forces him to conclude that even the truth can resemble a muddle when presented in court. He has trouble making up his own mind about the case--this is no Twelve Angry Men update, though its insights on jury-room dynamics are just as instructive. Burnett also ruminates on his own profession: "I realize now that for me--a humanist, an academic, a poetaster--the primary aim of sustained thinking and talking had always been, in a way, more thinking and talking. Cycles of reading, interpreting, and discussing were always exactly that: cycles. One never 'solved' a poem, one read it, and then read it again--each reading emerging from earlier efforts and preparing the mind for future readings." Jury duty, of course, demands an awesome finality--and the conclusion to the trial involving Burnett is one that haunts the author after the gavel falls. --John Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Combining an ethical examination of civic obligation with a meticulous character study, Princeton historian of science Burnett (Masters of All They Surveyed) dramatizes his experience of being selected for jury duty in a capital case. Told as two parts of the same tale (trial and jury deliberations), the story is appropriately navigated between several Scylla-and-Charybdis pairings the court and the jury room, the truth and lies of the case, the application of laws and the fiery desire for justice. While the murder trial delves into sordid details of transvestism, male prostitution and rape, the tale takes its potent turn when Burnett is unexpectedly moved into the position of jury foreman (the original foreman simply disappeared one day) and must play a critical role in the jury deliberations. Holding other jurors' wide-ranging emotions in check while staying focused on the case himself, Burnett ultimately brings readers face-to-face with the stultifying bureaucracy of American law in praxis. Drawing on an academic and intellectual background, he builds an impressive melodrama and tense, emotionally exhausting scenes in the jury room that surely will recall Twelve Angry Men. But while the ruminations are articulate and engrossing, readers may wonder how Burnett plays a key role in the story while managing to remain distant enough to render the facts of the jury room as easily as he does. (Sept. 19)Forecast: Knopf is taking a big position on this, with a first printing of 100,000, a 10-city author tour and national advertising on CNN and Court TV, where Burnett will also make appearances. If he comes across as personable, his glimpse behind the closed doors of justice could tempt a wide range of curious readers.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • File Size: 270 KB
  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375727515
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 22, 2002)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1GOW
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #347,063 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Review by the lawyer on the case June 20, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As the defense attorney who actually tried the case described in this book, I think this book is valuable just to see how Manhattan juries consider and decide criminal cases. As my wife, a writer, said when the book first came out, " He wrote the book, so he got to make himself the hero." You would think from reading the book that all the evidence fell from the sky and that I played no part in presenting the defense. An interesting read if you read it only to learn how juries work.
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Jury of One August 25, 2002
Format:Hardcover
I found this book in the library and at the time, had no knowledge of its publisher's heavy push, its substantial hardcover printing, or the author's 10-city book tour as mentioned in the PW and other reviews.
It seemed interesting, and the jacket blurbs referring to "Twelve Angry Men" were appealing.
Other reviewers have stated simply the differences between what the book jacket promises, and what's in the book. Literature, especially this type, responds to the world; it does not direct it.
I've heard dozens of people complain about jury duty, and dozens more say that it's pointless. Despite Professor Burnett's statements to the contrary (after these pages of complete self-obsession and disrespect for his fellow jurors, and every living being in the courtroom with the possible exception of the sommnolent history-loving bailiff) - his "affirmations" that the jury system still works, although men like his fellow juror Felipe should not be allowed to sit - this book tells the story of a jury of one. One man who is no better than, and perhaps a bit worse than all those other people who want to weasel out of jury duty, who don't take it seriously, or who think the system doesn't work.
Those who read this book will learn what the professor ate during sequestration (fruit, nuts, cheese, bread, fennel bulbs). Blood oranges! A dozen blood oranges in New York City. A blood orange is insipid, an expensive luxury that appeals to the eye, but tastes far less rich than an ordinary Navel. They will learn that men who wear large belt buckles that say "Rodeo" are usually knee-jerk conservative "good 'ol boys." Except sometimes they're not. They will learn that the Professor read The Economist during lunch breaks, while sitting in a pleasant, sunny corner. Eating fruit and nuts.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why Academics Make Lousy Jurors December 14, 2002
Format:Paperback
I've been a trial lawyer for more than 30 years. I've tried both civil and criminal cases. Currently I am a prosecutor. So I was interested in Burnett's book because it promised to give me a glimpse of how a jury conducts itself in deliberations. If the jury Burnett served on in Manhattan is any indication, it's like the saying that it's better not to see how sausage is made.
I don't fault all the members of this jury... A more alert prosecutor would have struck him at the outset when he observed him segregating himself from the rest of the jury panel, nibbling his fruits and nuts and reading his newspaper in the corner.
It is not the verdict the jury ultimately reached that is offensive. If the jury wanted to entertain a reasonable doubt whether or not the defendant acted in self defense, that was its prerogative. But to sit around and debate justice vs. the law for four days was simply a jury out of control, led by an academic who apparently operates on such a high intellectual plane that common sense is alien to him.
I'd be interested in what his fellow jurors make of Burnett's account of their common experience. My surmise is that they would not recognize his account. He was so off base that in the end, this is simply one man's subjective and distorted view of how the legal system functions.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Have You Reached A Verdict, Mr. Foreman?" November 23, 2001
Format:Hardcover
Kudos to this insightful portrait of the trial by jury. Very few books have revealed the inner workings of a jury's deliberations with such clarity and detail. The author sat as the foreman of the jury in the criminal trial of the People vs. Monte Milcray for murder in the second degree held in New York City. In just 183 pages, the author takes the reader through the jurors and their backgrounds, the trial and the evidence and then reveals how all of this plays together for four days during the jury's deliberations and sequestration. You cannot come away from this text and not better appreciate the power of a jury and the valuable service it performs in our system of "justice." For this alone, you will be glad you read this book.
This book, however, is not without its flaws. Early on in the text, the author refers to Ockham's metaphorical razor as the philosopher's tool used to excise all but the most essential to arrive at the truth. This book's editor obviously misunderstood this concept, and allowed what is a good book to be lessened with the author's ruminations that do nothing to illuminate what this book is about except to reveal the author's intellectual prowess and his penchant for affected behaviors. Maybe that's the way the Princeton University history department likes its assistant professors (the book's jacket identifies the author as one) to appear in print, but since other reviewers on this site have also complained about how the author's smugness gets in the way, I cannot help but think that this book could have been so much better if a stronger editor had been assigned.
If you live in Manhattan or work in its court system, you will particularly appreciate this book. If you're a lawyer, you'd better listen to what the jury actually thinks is important. And if you're a casual reader who appreciates a book about trials and the legal process, I predict you'll like this book, but you probably won't invite its author to your next party.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Still great reading, years later
I heard it on tape a decade ago, was fascinated by it. Just now, I bought a copy for my son, who was serving on a jury. He told me he LOVED it.
Published 5 months ago by Bruce
3.0 out of 5 stars An Uneven Account of Murder Trial and Jury Deliberation
If nothing else, this book held my attention more or less from start to finish. Burnett has a knack for describing the courtroom drama and deliberations vividly and dramatically. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Paul
4.0 out of 5 stars Did I read the same book?
I found this book a good read, the author an intelligent writer,refreshingly insightful. The folks who excoriate him for being self-absorbed, apparently missed the part where he... Read more
Published on November 9, 2012 by catsandbookstoo
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking insight into our jury system
Listened to the a unabridged audio and loved it -- BUT it does deal with very difficult subjects.
Writing well-done -- issues raised about nature of Law and justice worth... Read more
Published on February 11, 2012 by B. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest book
It is just as interesting to read this book as it is to read its reviews on Amazon.
The book gets 5 stars, mostly for the effort.
It is not well written. Read more
Published on January 15, 2010 by Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual Goes to Jury Duty
D. Graham Burnett's "Trial By Jury" is not a "true crime" novel. In fact, it is to "true crime" what Jane Austen is to Harlequin romances. Read more
Published on August 16, 2008 by Kevin Currie-Knight
4.0 out of 5 stars eloquent defense of the jury system, warts and all
In a two hour film (e.g., "Twelve Angry Men"), an audience can't empathize with some crucial aspects of a jury trial: the tedium, the ridiculous density of certain jurors, the... Read more
Published on May 30, 2005 by Donovan G. Rinker
3.0 out of 5 stars Honest Portrayal of Jury Life, but Lacks Courtroom Tension
D. Graham Burnett, an assistant Princeton history professor, brings us a lively, honest look at the inner world of juries in the slim volume entitled, A Trial by Jury. Read more
Published on January 26, 2005 by Bohdan Kot
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid This Book
This is a terrible book by an atrocious author. The author is not very likable; at the start he has made up his mind about the case, so he makes fun of the other jurors for being... Read more
Published on May 25, 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Listen to the recorded version
For those who found (or think they may find) this book pretentious or smug, I strongly suggest you listen to the recorded version. It's recorded by the author himself. Read more
Published on October 27, 2003
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