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A Trial by Jury

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  349 ratings  ·  47 reviews
When Princeton historian D. Graham Burnett answered his jury duty summons, he expected to spend a few days catching up on his reading in the court waiting room. Instead, he finds himself thrust into a high-pressure role as the jury foreman in a Manhattan trial. There he comes face to face with a stunning act of violence, a maze of conflicting evidence, and a parade of ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published October 15th 2002 by Vintage (first published September 11th 2001)
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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  349 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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Karthik Chalumuri
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
ⓐⓥⓡⓔⓔ ☞ The Bookish Blonde


“True justice, final justice, absolute justice, belongs to God; human justice can only be cautious, not perfect. For this reason the burden is so heavy. And those of us with doubts must continue to vote not guilty.”

This book really helps you to ponder the very serious nature that is deliberating and reaching a verdict which most of us have not done but very well may be selected to do, at
A Trial by Jury is one tour de force of a read. D. Graham Burnett has written one of the best inside looks at a jury and the ramifications of trying to reach a verdict in a murder trial. This is not Perry Mason or Law and Order. It is much worse, it is the ultimate reality.

Given a confusing set of circumstances in a murder trial, a diverse group must come up with a verdict. What comes out is not about the trial per se, but the personalities in the room and the different ideas of what "Justice"
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting take on the rigors of jury duty. If you have never served on a jury and would like a first person perspective, this is a book you need to read.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author recounts his experiences as the foreman of a jury in a murder trial, from being called for jury selection to post-trial discussion. Even in his own words, he seemed like a self-possessed jerk during jury selection. But he and the rest of the jury warm up to each other as their thoughts about the guilt or innocence of the accused evolve as they consider their verdict. My audio book was missing a disc, so I didn’t hear all the deliberations on guilt or innocence.
Doug Branscombe
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Was given this book by a friend. A relatively short book giving an inside look at the minds of a jury asked to determine innocence or guilt in a murder trial. A very interesting look into the physical and logistical demands of being on a sequestered jury, but more so into the psychological demands of the same. You came away thinking that the jury deliberations are a very inexact science, that personality differences can certainly play a role, that sometimes jury instructions aren't very helpful. ...more
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Unique book, down to earth and well written. Got bogged down once or twice in his labyrinth of thinking process, but I actually enjoyed the process. He does a great job of describing the people he meets.
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writer is super arrogant, but this was an interesting read. I really hope I get the chance to be on a jury someday.
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2017
This book is a quick read, very enjoyable, especially if you have served on a jury. His narrative expressed how difficult and inconvenient jury duty can be, but also how rewarding.
Rowel Leung
Jul 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
Personally, I find the writing style hard to follow. It's a little all over the place. Pity- considering the fascinating topic choice.
Nov 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-affairs
Trials are a "retelling, in a string of words . . . a distressing distortion of the cluttered thickness of things as they happen."

Burnett is a Princeton history professor who writes of his experience as the foreman of a jury for a murder trial. He became foreman, when the original foreman just disappeared, just before the deliberations were to begin. Burnett considered the experience "the most intense sixty-six hours [hours of jury deliberation; the entire experience lasted seventeen days] of my
Caroline Bell
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more. Crime and the shortcomings of the justice system have always captured my attention. This book is an inside look at the jury proceedings of a single murder case in New York City in the late 90s, as experienced by a historian of science. And that, my friends, is why it only got three stars. The actual process and jury members are compelling, but the author's tone really got under my skin. He came across as holier than thou and condescending, and I couldn't get ...more
Aug 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
A Trial By Jury is a nonfiction account of Burnett's own experience serving in the jury of a murder trial. It brings up some interesting ideas and is a nice read if you're interested in matters of law and the justice system. The idea that merely and incredibly being citizens and alive as people somehow makes us necessary and qualified to judge someone's guilt or innocence is a cornerstone of the criminal justice system in the United States, and yet makes one wonder how that comes about. Here, ...more
Eric Farr
Jan 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is a nonfiction account of one murder trial, focusing especially on the jury deliberations in which the author took part. It is equal parts basic introduction to theories of jurisprudence, dramatic recounting of a murder trial and subsequent jury deliberations, and reflective consideration and criticism of both the jury process and the abstract world of academic life. The prose is clean and clear, and even the most densely complex theoretical considerations are explained efficiently. ...more
Edward Weiss
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don’t believe many contemporary novels deserve a 5-STAR rating. Neither should you if you ever read the classics. But, D. Graham Burnett’s A Trial By Jury is one of those rare ones that do, though maybe for its content as opposed to its great writing, which was still very good.
First, he tells us the difference between thinkers and the rest of the people; thinkers think, they think, they talk about their thoughts, and then they think again; the rest of us live in the real world and have to take
Jeff Doucette
Nov 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
A memoir of a young academic who's selected to serve as foreman on a jury in an NYC murder case. It's a very quick read--very economically written--and provides a good overview of the limited ability of the jury system to reliably render justice.

The author discusses his frustration with the limited information--none remotely dispositive--upon which the jury must base its decision. To be sure, the case is a difficult one: the accused claims self-defense, there were no witnesses to the murder,
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
This is the story of one man's experience on a New York state jury. Very interesting. Real jury stories, I think, are not often shared beyond people's circle of friends and inquiring attorneys from that trial.

This book is aided by what appears to be an interesting and socially and morally complex trial.

The narrator comes across as awfully smug, self-conscious, and judgmental, but he seems to know it, which mitigates the negative effect. At any rate, I'd be scared to be on a jury with this guy.
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I had to read this for my judicial process class. At first I was not sure what to think and I was just going to skim through the book. However, as soon as I started I reading I was immediately captured by the author's concise description of the murder itself, the trial, and the jury process. Not only is it entertaining, but it also quite informative for those of us that learn better through practical stories. It is a great book overall that gives a peak into the historically secretative process ...more
Sep 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a book about a people serving on a jury where most of them probably feel the defendant IS guilty. But feeling's aren't the arbitrator of the verdict. The author is an intelligent writer who takes the reader through the agony of making a decision by the facts and the law, even though it may mean a not guilty verdict, for someone who may be guilty. As I was reading this, I was trying to keep an open mind on the facts presented, and even though I had much more information than the jury, it ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it liked it
This is an account of Burnett's experience on the jury for a murder trial. It is not meant to be about the facts of the case, but about how the people on the jury came to their verdict. My curiosity left me wanting more details of the case, but I understand why the author only included what he did. Having served on a jury myself (though for a case not nearly as long or serious as this), I found that Burnett's description of the quandary of the juror (having to make a judgement without being able ...more
James Tharpe
Sep 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Burnet does a great job of introspection and intellectualization of his first-hand account of his experience as a juror on a murder trial. The rest comes off as a tad lazy. This is Burnett's account of the ordeal and Burnett's alone. It's heavy on the facts of the case that he could recall, but he admittedly didn't bother verifying his account of events or the case through research or the involvement of others that are part of the story. This approach is not without merit, if only Burnett had ...more
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Probably no one can tell you what it would be like to be a juror on a murder trial. Burnett doesn't try. His book is good because it gets right to the point of telling you what it was like to be the foreman, as a humanities-type professorial "poetaster," on the murder trial of Monte Virginia Milcray, accused in the stabbing death of Randolph Cuffee. Neither gratuitous not sanitized, Burnett gives a detailed and pointed account of his experience assimilating the evidence, observing the lawyers' ...more
Feb 23, 2010 rated it liked it
This was a quick read and I appreciated the insight into jury duty--seeing as I have yet to be called! And, when I do get called, it is unlikely that I'll be called for a murder trial. This author, though coming off a bit elitist at times, wrote non-fiction extraordinarily well, making this read so much like a narrative that I got through it in no time. He raised some very interesting questions about the law versus justice and what our responsibilities are as citizens.
May 06, 2009 rated it liked it
I gained a new understanding of the power the state has over it's citizens. On the other hand, I discoved a hatred of this power. We apparantly have no rights as a juror - just slaves with a job thrust upon them. I write this just after getting a juror questionaire for my county. I have very mixed feelings about this endeavor.
Renae Mackley
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I found this book interesting in an intellectual/philosophical way. I enjoyed hearing the process of how circumstances played into changing or solidifying the minds of jurors and how they came to their conclusion. The case is viewed to some degree and I skipped some of the gruesome or unappealing details. The portrayal of this juror's experience is well written. For mature readers only.
David Quinn
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
D. Graham Burnett is a pompous jerk and if you don't believe me you can read this book and judge for yourself. Maybe I just don't like books by smarmy know-it-alls. The premise is interesting enough and the workings and dynamics of the jury room are interesting but the author overwhelms the story with his biases, enormous intellect and ego.
Mar 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting look into jury duty written by someone who was selected to be the foreman on a murder case in NYC. I got annoyed during the deliberations piece, in all honesty, but realize the interpretation of law and the heavy responsibility the U.S. justice system puts on jurors can be complex.
Feb 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who has served on a jury!
I stumbled upon this book and breezed right through it. While this is certainly not a ground-breaking piece of literature, the author provides an interesting look into the unique experience of jury duty. If you have ever served on one, you will definitely find this book worth the read.
Nov 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Yeah, hmmmm. Another up and down book. Anytime I was thinking I needed to put it down for a bit and have a look at something else, the author would come up with a comment or insight that clicked and I would continue reading.
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed reading this book. It got lots of negative reviews (condescending author, etc) but I found the author brutally honest even if it didn't always make him look great. I understand what he went through as jury foreman.
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