• A Wilderness of Error

  • The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald
  • By: Errol Morris
  • Narrated by: John Pruden
  • Length: 14 hrs and 31 mins
  • 4.0 out of 5 stars (201 ratings)
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A Wilderness of Error

By: Errol Morris
Narrated by: John Pruden
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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

Critic reviews

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

What listeners say about A Wilderness of Error

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

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.

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9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

I expected better from Erroll Morris

The Thin Blue Line is an amazing film and the people who told Morris that they didn't want to make this trashfire into a movie may have been trying to save his reputation.

Morris leaves out important evidence against MacDonald, but even worse he tries to assassinate the character of Collette MacDonald's parents for not being willing to let her murder and the murder of her children go.

It's not weird to want to see someone punished for the death of your child and grandchildren, Errol.

But when Morris attacks the looks of Collette's mother while basically calling her crazy?
That's so far over the line. It's an appalling thing to have done.

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6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Can't get my 2 hour back.

What disappointed you about A Wilderness of Error?

The author writing is very fragmented. To me it does not feel like a book. There is no build up to the setting or character development. It goes from 3rd person account to 1st person account. One sentence it is author telling a story, another sentence, he is telling it from the main character point of view. I tried so hard to listen, but after 2 hours, I just gave up. Author have some kind of fascination with the Poet Edgar Allan Poe. he keeps quoting it like every 5 minutes. I gave story 3 star, even though, I did not finish it. My head was spinning. One of his quotes was like what if you have got everything wrong. what if the accused did not kill anyone, what if it not up but it is down. it is not in, but it is out. Bottom line, there is no flow in the story.

Would you ever listen to anything by Errol Morris again?

Never.

What three words best describe John Pruden’s performance?

I can listen to him tell story by another author.

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4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

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.

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4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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

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4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating

This book is incredible. The story is so complicated and twisted yet Morris pulls it altogether so that facts and timelines never get confused. True TRUE drama. This audio book version is great as well, the voices are clear and uncomplicated but gripping. Very happy to have made this purchase!

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

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