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A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald | [Errol Morris]

A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald

Early on the morning of February 17, 1970, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a Green Beret doctor named Jeffrey MacDonald 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.
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Publisher's Summary

Early on the morning of February 17, 1970, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a Green Beret doctor named Jeffrey MacDonald 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 20th century. Jeffrey MacDonald was finally convicted in 1979 and remains in prison today. Since then a number of best-selling books - including Joe McGinniss's Fatal Vision and Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, along with a blockbuster television miniseries - have attempted to solve the MacDonald case and explain what it all means.

In A Wilderness of Error, Errol Morris, who has been investigating the case for nearly two decades, reveals that almost everything we know about that case is ultimately flawed, and an innocent man may be behind bars. In a masterful reinvention of the true-crime thriller, Morris looks behind the haze of myth that still surrounds these murders. Drawing on court transcripts, lab reports, and original interviews, Morris brings a complete 40-year history back to life and demonstrates how our often desperate attempts to understand and explain an ambiguous reality can overwhelm the facts.

A Wilderness of Error allows the listener to explore the case as a detective might, by confronting the evidence as if for the first time. Along the way Morris poses bracing questions about the nature of proof, criminal justice, and the media, and argues that MacDonald has been condemned not only to prison, but also to the stories that have been created around him. In this profoundly original meditation on truth and justice, Errol Morris reopens a famous closed case and reveals that, 40 years after the murder of MacDonald's family, we still have no proof of his guilt.

©2012 Errol Morris (P)2012 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"Bound to be in demand." (Library Journal)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (84 )
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3.9 (70 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Carmen Burlington, NC, United States 11-05-12
    Carmen Burlington, NC, United States 11-05-12
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    "Rocked My World"
    Any additional comments?

    I was always convinced Macdonald was guilty. 100%, no question. The first half of the book didn't impress me. It seemed as if if Morris was just content to spout philosophy. He brings the jackhammer down in the second half and I'm still astonished at the lack of info regarding the Macdonald case I had no idea existed. I doubt Macdonalds guilt but, even if I didn't, the things that occurred during his trials frighten me in the sense that this judicial malfeasance could actually occur in my lifetime.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Big jim Picotto Great White North 04-21-15
    Big jim Picotto Great White North 04-21-15 Member Since 2015

    Say something about yourself!

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    "Good analysis, but maybe a little far fetched"

    Errol Morris should have made this a documentary. He admits that he tried, but was turned down. After listening to this, i believe i can see why. Although he did his homework, a lot of the book is rehashing Fatal Vision, and explaining the 'double cross' that was perpetrated by the author. Rightfully so. But in the end, i have a hard time believing his theory based on the credibility of the 'witnesses'. Sadly, i do think this case was botched by the military police, but i do believe the conclusion would inevitably be the same. Regardless, it is still worth the credit.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bennett E. Werner 01-14-13
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    "Well Done"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    If you're interested in the Jeffrey McDonald saga (the green beret emergency room doctor convicted of killing his wife and 2 young daughters in February 1970 (now in prison for >30 years), you'll enjoy this book. It's an encyclopedic, microscopic analysis of virtually every whisper and murmur that relates to the case. Every piece of evidence and many pieces that were never made available during the trial are treated with maximum scrutiny - truly no rock left unturned. It's well written. His research is exhaustive. Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself if you think McD is guilty but Morris will be happy to prejudice you.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It's thorough


    Have you listened to any of John Pruden’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Many


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debbie 04-20-15
    Debbie 04-20-15 Member Since 2015
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    "The Devil is in the Details"
    What did you love best about A Wilderness of Error?

    The Jeffrey MacDonald case has interested me for years. This book promised to provide a new look at the court cases as well as providing new information about the night of the murders. Overall it delivered but my sense is that were I to read this myself I would have skimmed over the drier bits- and in this format I could not.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of A Wilderness of Error?

    It was good to hear MacDonald's voice.


    Would you listen to another book narrated by John Pruden?

    I am not sure.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No- and I could not have!


    Any additional comments?

    Since there were multiple voices- it would have been nice to have a female reading some of the parts.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A customer New York 03-31-15
    A customer New York 03-31-15 Member Since 2010
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    "Interesting but Unconvincing"
    Would you try another book from Errol Morris and/or John Pruden?

    Probably not Errol Morris. I purchased this audiobook thinking it was about another case, so I was totally unbiased going in. I had never read Fatal Vision (although I ended up reading it after I finished this audiobook). So after just being exposed to the evidence in this book, I thought Mc Donald was guilty. Errol Morris' approach to the evidence seemed naive and unsophisticated to me. I was disappointed...


    Has A Wilderness of Error turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No.


    What does John Pruden bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He did a good job narrating - particularly handled the female voices well.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    definitely not.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gr8hnd 03-25-15
    gr8hnd 03-25-15 Member Since 2015
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    "This case never gets old"
    If you could sum up A Wilderness of Error in three words, what would they be?

    Riveting; fascinating; detailed


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    He really captured the characters well.


    Which character – as performed by John Pruden – was your favorite?

    MacDonald


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Every good book about the MacDonald case elicits some extreme reactions. Nothing about the case makes me laugh, nor did the narrative. Very dramatic.


    Any additional comments?

    Great narration.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peter D Coyle Philadelphia, PA United States 01-26-15
    Peter D Coyle Philadelphia, PA United States 01-26-15 Member Since 2012
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    "Errol writes like he directs."

    Methodical and fair. I still don't know who killed the family. But I know the trial was a farce. Word.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Frances 01-16-15
    Frances 01-16-15 Member Since 2006
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    "Still not convinced"

    I really did not like the narrator. I found him boring to listen to, and I believe he was a big part of my dislike for the author.
    While I agree that McDonald most likely should not have been convicted, I am far from convinced of his innocence. For me, the nagging issue is McDonald's relatively minor injuries. In a crime so full of 'overkill' why leave the biggest threat alive. Especially if he was the target as Morris implies. Of course that is not enough to convict him.
    The sad reality is that the Justice system is not motivated by finding the truth but by building a strong case against their favorite subject.
    I found the author also had blinders but in the opposite direction. He was determined to spin the evidence to McDonald's favor. By the last third of the book I was just annoyed by his bias and less disposed to give weight to his arguments.
    In general, I am prone to believe in someone's innocence with only the slightest nudge. Not here.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Susan CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA, United States 05-19-13
    Susan CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA, United States 05-19-13
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    "self-aggrandizing drivel"
    Would you be willing to try another book from Errol Morris? Why or why not?

    No. This book carefully omits evidence that contradicts its premise that MacDonald is innocent, preventing the reader from making an informed decision of his or her own. Also, either Morris doesn't understand the basics of the legal system and didn't bother to learn them, or he deliberately misleads the reader who doesn't know better. This book is written for shock value and has neither literary nor information value.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ELIZABETH 02-07-13
    ELIZABETH 02-07-13
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    "What a steaming pile of crap that was...."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    The story jumped around way too much, it seemed as though the author just threw together some random thoughts and gave no consideration to the flow if the story.


    What was most disappointing about Errol Morris’s story?

    The fact that he has it wrong, Jeff MacDonald is most certainly guilty of the crimes for which he is in prison.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    He was a bit of a monotone at times.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from A Wilderness of Error?

    I would have scrapped the whole project.


    Any additional comments?

    I went into this hoping to hear something that might make me re-think the story of Dr MacDonald and the murder of his family. I came out being more sure of his guilt. This did nothing to sway my opinion.

    2 of 8 people found this review helpful

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