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Fatal Vision

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  15,009 ratings  ·  267 reviews
Fatal Vision is the electrifying true story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the handsome, Princeton-educated physician convicted of savagely slaying his young pregnant wife and two small children, murders he vehemently denies committing. Bestselling author Joe McGinnis chronicles every aspect of this horrifying and intricate crime, and probes the life and psyche of the magnetic, ...more
Paperback, 704 pages
Published August 1st 1984 by Signet (first published 1981)
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In Cold Blood by Truman CapoteHelter Skelter by Vincent BugliosiThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann RuleThe Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonColumbine by Dave Cullen
Best True Crime
10th out of 472 books — 742 voters
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True Crime
7th out of 409 books — 428 voters


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Community Reviews

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Emily
A true-crime classic. Definitely read it in tandem with Janet Malcolm's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant "The Journalist and the Murderer," which analyzes the lawsuit of prisoner Jeffrey MacDonald (convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two children in 1970) against author Joe McGinniss, whom he claimed libelled and defamed him in this book. "How can you slander a convicted killer?" you ask. That's what Janet Malcolm wanted to know, too, and her answer -- her book -- is ingenious. And whate ...more
TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
A friend told me "Green Beret" murderer, Jeffrey MacDonald, convicted in 1979 of killing his pregnant wife, Colette and their two young daughters, Kimberley, five, and Kristen, two at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina on February 17, 1970 now has a motion for a new trial being considered before the Fourth Circuit Court in Richmond, Virginia.

This is not the place for an in-depth discussion of Jeffrey MacDonald’s guilt or lack of guilt or even his chances of getting a new trial. However, the discussion di
...more
Shaun
I thought this was phenomenal from a "true crime" perspective.

Though long, I felt the overall organization of the book worked quite well. I also appreciated the sections told in Jeffrey's MacDonald's own words. Having first heard about these murders via the very popular mini-series while growing up, I had a tendency to lean toward his guilt. However, reading this, I found my opinions vacillating continuously between "of course he did it" and "maybe he didn't do it."

The case itself is sensational
...more
Tanja Berg
Rating 5* out of 5. I have read 952 pages with attention, with horror, with fascination and not once been bored. That is a pretty incredible achievement, on the part of the author. This is the most engrossing read I've read in a long time and by far the best book I have read so far this year.

On February 17th, 1970 pregnant Colette MacDonald and her two young children, Kimberly and Kirsten, were brutally murdered. All of them had been stabbed multiple times, far more than needed to actually kill
...more
Jim
Nov 03, 2007 Jim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any one
Great use of how different people see the same thing differently. Convinced me the good doctor killed his wife and kids
Justin Mitchell
After reading The Journalist and the Murderer a few years ago, the name of Joe McGinniss first caught my attention. I discovered he was a pretty well-known nonfiction writer with a tidy little shelf of bestsellers. I told myself I ought to read him someday. After his recent spate of media attention for moving next door to the Palin family (which, though I loathe the Palins and everything they stand for, does strike me as a little creepy), I finally got to this one, the writing of which formed th ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Jeffrey MacDonald used to be a household word in the US in the 1970s. He was an MD, an army captain whose wife and two children were murdered. He was in the house when the murders took place and he had minor injuries whereas the attacks on the others were brutal. This is about all that everybody involved can agree on.

MacDonald claimed three hippies did the murder; the initial US Army investigation concluded that MacDonald had killed his own family. He was found not guilty in an army hearing but
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
The book about Jeffrey MacDonald and the murder of his family is not without controversy and detractors. Janet Malcolm's 1990 book, The Journalist and the Murderer," accused McGinniss of acting like a confidence man, pretending friendship to gain MacDonald's trust long after McGinnis had been convinced of his guilt. As she herself posits in her book, this is part of journalism's stock and trade. I've seen it in action myself. I found myself misquoted once in a national, very famous magazine--and ...more
Caroline
I had to stop reading this halfway through, which is still an achievement since it is a 600 page behemoth of crap. I have no idea how this book gets such glowing reviews!

McGinniss is not only highly biased and fails to present a convincing case against Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, a doctor accused (and later convicted) of killing his family in 1970. First, the book is poorly written and lacking in editing. It seems that McGinniss includes anything anyone ever said about anything related to this case a
...more
Carolyn
Very insightful, revealing, and horrifying portrait of a murderous psychopath and how he attempts to manipulate others to his own advantage. I read this book with an open mind about the case, unsure if I believed MacDonald had killed his wife and two young daughters. It lays everything out there clearly for the reader...from the physical evidence, the circumstantial, the hard to believe story MacDonald told...and perhaps most disturbing, transcripts of the author's interviews with MacDonald show ...more
Meredith
This is my second time reading this book. Why read it twice, you may ask. Because I recently found a book contradicting the guilty verdict of Jeffrey MacDonald. Alright, settle in, this will be a long review. These murders occurred before I was born. The eventual actual trial occurred before I can remember. The book and the eventual two part mini-series that came out afterwards (back in the day of the popularity of the mini-series) had huge ratings were before I would have been allowed to know o ...more
Tree
One of the best "true crime" books I've read. I watched the mini series when I was a young child (yes, I know...) and found the book to be much better. I find it especially compelling that McGinniss went into the book thinking Jeff wasn't guilty, but was then convinced of it, as I am too. McDonald has been up for parol several times, but will hopefully continued to have it denied.
David
I read this one a long time ago, but I remember how tragic and moving an experience it was. I read it before seeing the mini-series on television--

This one details Dr. Gregory McDonald, who is now imprisoned for killing his wife and children. At first, the investigation looks for outsiders, but eventually, turns towards the good doctor, whose story begins to develop holes and doesn't match the forensic evidence.

At first, there are only hints that the doctor is the killer-- but later on-- about
...more
Jennifer
This book opened up the door to my love for true crime stories. I read it when I was 17 years old. A friend heading to college for a degree in criminal justice let me borrow it to read, stating I would not be able to put it down and he was correct. I spent 20 years trying to aquire this book for my collection. One sunny Saturday at a sale in our town park to raise funds for a new playground, there perched on top of stacks and stacks of books, was my prized book! I bought it and have read it two ...more
Joann
What a book. I couldn't put this one down. I read it when it first came out in the early 1980's. What a monster Jeffrey MacDonald is.
Dina
I'm a tad addicted to true crime books right now. Especially those by Joe McGinniss.

I knew nothing about this well-known crime that took place in the early seventies, and that has gone on to endure decades of legal battles. The really unique thing about this story was the author's perspective. He got up close and personal with the accused for years, and spent decades of his own life engrossed in this heinous crime. It's a crime that's really hard to comprehend given all the facts.

My only issue w
...more
Dennis Littrell
McGinniss Joe. Fatal Vision (1983) *****
One of the classics of the true crime genre

This is one of the most chilling 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 the
...more
Katherine
This was my true crime book of the summer - I've been trying to get through the classics of the genre, but you really can't read more than one of these at a time. Last summer I read Helter Skelter, and a few years ago I read In Cold Blood. I tried to read The Executioner's Song, but couldn't get through more than 100 pages or something. For another time, maybe.

But ANYWAY. Fatal Vision is an incredible book. It's exhaustively detailed and clocks in at 684 pages, but I read it pretty fast, even ju
...more
Jessica
I have to say, if I was on the jury for the McDonald trial, I don’t know if I would have been able to convict him. There is just that nagging shadow of a doubt within me.

To start with, there is a lot of circumstantial and physical evidence that definitely points to McDonald as the murderer of his family. Some of the “evidence” provided I found myself thinking, “well that really doesn’t prove anything”. For example under initial CID questioning McDonald states he removed “Knife A” from his wife’s
...more
Karen Stinneford
I first read this book shortly after it came out, and remember being absolutely riveted by it. I just re-read it, having recently completed Errol Morris' "A Wilderness of Error" promoting MacDonald's innocence.

On second reading, Fatal Vision is not particularly well written. Basically, it is court proceeding transcripts interspersed with MacDonald's musings into a tape recorder. It is boring and one feels like one is wading through a marsh to get to e other side.

That being said, there is also no
...more
Suzy Blazak
I was on a trip to Hawaii in about 1983, and I remember seeing about 1/2 the passengers totally engrossed in it. Well, I succumbed and thourolly enjoyed this books as it gave you facts. Shortly after coming home from my trip, I picked the book up. Long story short, I ended up in the hospital in Ling Beach in which he had worked. Note to readers- if you even THINK u're getting a mild cold, do not get on plane until cleared by a Doctor. During my stay of 5 days, I got quite a bit of feedback about ...more
Dawnelle Wilkie
Maybe I'm setting myself for disappointment but ever since reading Truman Capote's In Cold Blood I've been looking for its modern-day equal. Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil came close but slightly missed the mark. I was cautiously optimistic when I read a description of Fatal Vision describing it as "a true-crime classic." It became clear very quickly that I was in for another disappointment.

The journalistic ideal of remaining objective and keeping the writer out of the story is necessa
...more
LeeAnne
Fort Bragg, North Carolina 1979
A Green Beret surgeon snaps and slaughters his entire family

1. Pregnant wife dead, bludgeoned to death, stabbed 56 times.
2. Five-year-old Kimberley dead, clubbed in head, stabbed 10 times
3. Two-year-old Kristen dead, stabbed 48 times

Jeffry MacDonald contacted author Joe McGinniss asking him to write a book to help prove his innocence. McGinniss was happy to help. He strongly believed MacDonald was innocent but as he got to know MacDonald better and sifted through
...more
Michael
4.5 stars. A long, exhausting read, but I love the approach: though he takes us chronologically from the murders in 1970 to the slow, bureaucratic march toward conviction in 1979, McGinniss circles around his subject, All-American hero Jeffrey MacDonald, in subtle but devastating ways, requiring you to read the whole thing to gain the full portrait. I am going to re-read Janet Malcolm's famous treatise about this case and Errol Morris's attempt to exonerate MacDonald, but the man looks guilty as ...more
Emily
" Ok well I'm in like year five of being obsessed with true crime and seemingly normal people who murder people. And this book HITS DA SPOT if you're into that sorta stuff. The cover looks so trashy, whatEVER edition you have, there's no way around that-- but it's very thorough (maybe a little too thorough for some people, its super long) and also,I thought,quite well written. Really absorbing. The only reason I'm taking off a star is for the LAME part at the end where the author talks for pages ...more
John
fascinating story of Green Beret Doctor Jeffrey McDonald and the murder of his pregnant wife and two children. McDonald claimed it was committed by Manson-like hippie intruders who injured him but left him alive. Botched crime scene by Military Police. Author was originally an ally but the more he became involved the more he was convinced of McDonalds guilt. If you like true crime stories there are not too many more engrossing than this. What a waste of young promising lives.
David
A lot of people will tell you these days that Dr. MacDonald didn't kill his family, that things occurred exactly as he said. Well, I'm sorry, but I need more evidence of his innocence than that, especially since he's been convicted of the crime in a courtroom that saw all of the evidence that had been sitting around for nearly a decade. If he's truly innocent, then he's been the victim of an even greater crime. He's been robbed of more than a quarter of a century of freedom. How can we repay him ...more
Molly
I've been caught up in the fascination with NPR's Serial (season one) and the curiosity of themes of truth and memory and justice. This particular book attracted my attention when I saw Janet Malcolm's book The Journalist and The Murderer, and I'm the sort who then has to read all the peripheral things before I delve into the main event. I'm interested in Malcolm in her books on poets' lives (Sexton and Plath) and because her book was initially published in The New Yorker.

Unsurprisingly, this pa
...more
Steve
I have only recently discovered this book though it has been available since 1983. I read a fair amount of true crime books, and this one deserves to be right up there with the very best in the genre.
In the early hours of February 17th, 1970 police were called to a house on the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, USA. There they found Green Beret Captain Jeffery MacDonald slightly injured and his wife and two young daughters brutally and horrifically murdered. MacDonald claimed that intr
...more
Walter
Dr. Jeffrey McDonald was the Casey Anthony or OJ Simpson of the 1970s, and perhaps even more infamous than those two. He was accused of killing his wife and two children (along with a third child in utero) while on a mad rampage at the beginning of 1970. He wasn't tried until 1979, after his mother and father in law doggedly pursued the district attorney to prosecute McDonald for the murder. In this classic book, written in the early 1980s shortly after McDonald's trial, McGinniss describes the ...more
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Joe McGinniss (born 1942) is an American author of nonfiction and novels. He first came to prominence with the best-selling The Selling of the President 1968 which described the marketing of then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and has authored 11 works since that time. His latest book is The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin.
More about Joe McGinniss...
Blind Faith The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy Cruel Doubt Never Enough The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin

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