A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris
The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald

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If this headstrong book doesn’t change your sense of the Jeffrey MacDonald case, I’ll eat my Chuck Taylors.
-NY Times

Synopsis

Academy Award-winning filmmaker and former private detective Errol Morris examines the nature of evidence and proof in the infamous Jeffrey MacDonald murder case

Early on the morning of February 17, 1970, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Jeffrey MacDonald, a Green Beret doctor, called the police for help.  When the officers arrived at his home they found the bloody and battered bodies of MacDonald’s pregnant wife and two young daughters. The word “pig” was written in blood on the headboard in the master bedroom. As MacDonald was being loaded into the ambulance, he accused a band of drug-crazed hippies of the crime.

So began one of the most notorious and mysterious murder cases of the twentieth century. Jeffrey MacDonald was finally convicted in 1979 and remains in prison today. Since then a number of bestselling books—including Joe McGinniss’s Fatal Vision and Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer—and a blockbuster television miniseries have told their versions of the MacDonald case and what it all means.

Errol Morris has been investigating the MacDonald case for over twenty years. A Wilderness of Error is the culmination of his efforts. It is a shocking book, because it shows us that almost everything we have been told about the case is deeply unreliable, and crucial elements of the case against MacDonald simply are not true. It is a masterful reinvention of the true-crime thriller, a book that pierces the haze of myth surrounding these murders with the sort of brilliant light that can only be produced by years of dogged and careful investigation and hard, lucid thinking.

By this book’s end, we know several things: that there are two very different narratives we can create about what happened at 544 Castle Drive, and that the one that led to the conviction and imprisonment for life of this man for butchering his wife and two young daughters is almost certainly wrong.  Along the way Morris poses bracing questions about the nature of proof, criminal justice, and the media, showing us how MacDonald has been condemned, not only to prison, but to the stories that have been created around him.

In this profoundly original meditation on truth and justice, Errol Morris reopens one of America’s most famous cases and forces us to confront the unimaginable. Morris has spent his career unsettling our complacent assumptions that we know what we’re looking at, that the stories we tell ourselves are true. This book is his finest and most important achievement to date.
 

About Errol Morris

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ERROL MORRIS is a world-renowned filmmaker—the Academy Award-winning director of The Fog of War and the recipient of a MacArthur “genius award.” His other films include Standard Operating Procedure, Mr. Death, Fast Cheap and Out of Control, A Brief History of Time, The Thin Blue Line, and, most recently, Tabloid. He is the author of Believing Is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography.
 
Published September 4, 2012 by Penguin Books. 535 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Sep 30 2012
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Critic reviews for A Wilderness of Error
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Sep 10 2012

If this headstrong book doesn’t change your sense of the Jeffrey MacDonald case, I’ll eat my Chuck Taylors.

Read Full Review of A Wilderness of Error: The Tr... | See more reviews from NY Times

WSJ online

Excellent
Reviewed by Edward Jay Epstein on Aug 31 2012

Mr. Morris has produced a brilliant book about the vulnerability of justice to the preconceptions of prosecutors and the power of certain narratives to crowd out all others, even highly plausible ones.

Read Full Review of A Wilderness of Error: The Tr... | See more reviews from WSJ online

NPR

Good
Reviewed by Michael Schaub on Sep 04 2012

True crime books don't often stray into the fields of epistemology and narrative, but that's part of what makes A Wilderness of Error so vital and fascinating.

Read Full Review of A Wilderness of Error: The Tr... | See more reviews from NPR

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