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Fatal Vision Paperback – September 5, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 269 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A provocative, dramatic investigatory saga…..filled with insight and amazement.”—Los Angeles Times

“This is the real thing...A terrific book that will keep you up until two in the morning.”—Chicago Tribune

“Chilling…A haunting resurrection of Crime and Punishment.”—Time

“A compelling, memorable story, effectively told.”—New York Times Book Review
 
“Need not be compared to In Cold Blood and Executioner’s SongFatal Vision stands successfully on its own…a book of sweep and power.”—Miami Herald

About the Author

Joe McGinniss is the author of eleven other non-fiction works and one novel.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Signet (September 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451417941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451417947
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 2.1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (269 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAME on March 12, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of the most sobering of true crime tales, and one of the most intriguing. Former Green Beret officer Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (still in prison last time I checked) called the police early one morning to report that his pregnant wife and two young daughters had been murdered by a marauding gang of hippies shouting "Kill the pigs, acid is groovy" while he received some superficial wounds trying to fight them off.
Joe McGinniss who at the time was best known for his Nixon campaign book (The Selling of the President 1968) jumped on the case and made arrangements with MacDonald to follow him around and interview him. McGinniss has said that initially he believed MacDonald was innocent, but as he grew to know MacDonald, and as he sifted through the evidence he began to change his mind until in the end he believed along with the prosecution and the jurors that MacDonald had murdered his family. McGinniss reports all this in such a compelling manner that the reader is lead step by step to the same horrific conclusion (or at least most readers are). Also changing their minds about MacDonald were the wife's parents who at first refused to believe that he could have done something like this. Yet in the end they too were convinced.
Not convinced however were MacDonald's many supports including as I recall members of the Long Beach, California police department, many of MacDonald's co-workers, and a number of women who found the doctor very attractive.
All of this is interesting but what I think most fascinated McGinniss and what most fascinates me is an answer to the questions of Why did he do it? and How could any human being do something like that?
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
'Fatal Vision' has to be my favorite true-crime story, partly because of the compelling way McGinniss leads us through the long process of catching Dr. MacDonald, and the cold brutality of MacDonald himself. If there was a store for Psychopaths R' Us, Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald would be in the front window.

On February 17th, 1970, pregnant Colette MacDonald and her two young daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, were brutally murdered in their own home. Left alive was Colette's husband, Green Beret Jeffrey MacDonald, to tell a Manson-like story of home invasion resulting in the slayings. There was a man with a knife, a woman in white boots holding a candle while chanting "acid is groovy", and "Kill the pigs" written in blood on the headboard. MacDonald sustains a superficial puncture wound in his chest.

Colette's parents, Freddy and Mildred Kassab, were devastated and rushed to MacDonald's side. There was nothing but sorrow for this young man who, in one fell evening, lost his entire family.

But MacDonald's continuing stories of that fateful evening didn't hold water, and the more he talked, the more suspicions began to mount around him. Freddy, once his staunchest supporter, suddenly turned on him and became MacDonald's most bitter opponent. Too many people begin to suspect that there were no home invaders that night, only MacDonald, alone with a family he had come to resent.

MacDonald went on about his life, free at last of the burdens of the family that he felt had been weighing him down, to become a successful doctor in opulent Huntington Beach, California. But his past would continue to haunt him, as those who realized his guilt refused to give up. MacDonald was finally convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I finished rereading Fatal Vision yesterday and it still packs a wallop 18 years after I first read it. What starts out as a by the numbers retelling of the investigation is enhanced by first hand recollections by the man who became the prime suspect in the murders of his wife and two daughters: Jeffrey MacDonald. At first those recollections seem like the warm nostalgia anyone has of a happy past, how Jeff and his wife met, the birth of their children, etc. MacDonald does come across as a bit self-enchanted but no more so than any other once-upon-a-time golden boy I've known personally.

Because much of what is presented are transcripts from the grand jury and Article 32 hearing, the reader gets a sense of both sides of the story. But McGinniss ended up believing that MacDonald was guilty of the murders and he tells the story in a way that builds to that conclusion. So we see the Kassabs become first disenchanted with their son-in-law and then come to believe in his guilt, for example. Along with that MacDonald's recollections become increasingly more shallow and more egocentric. More than anything, MacDonald is damned by his own, endless words.

I became convinced of MacDonald's guilt reading this book, mainly because of the physical evidence (the pajama top especially) but in part because of the sheer unbelievability of MacDonald's version of events. Having seen him interviewed several times since, I'm always struck how perfect he appears to be, eerily too perfect.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
One of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. I continue to recommend it to everyone I know who reads journalism or true crime, and they've all been impressed by it.

In the first half of the book, McGinniss presents the history of the case and lets Jeffrey MacDonald present himself, via transcripts of cassette-tape recordings he sent the author. As the falseness and the inconsistencies in MacDonald's version of events, small in themselves, begin to accumulate, the reader begins to wonder.

Most of the second half covers the grand jury hearings and the trial in detail, including the years-long work of MacDonald's (step)father-in-law to have the case tried. Again, the inconsistencies and improbabilities continue to mount, and the reader's uncertainty grows.

In the last section, after the trial, McGinniss begins to research the case and its defendant more closely, looking for answers, feeling his own uncertainty and discomfort. By the end, whether one agrees with his deductions and speculations regarding motive and inciting circumstances, he's done a masterful job of picking apart the thin story MacDonald hid behind for a decade.
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