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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 bizarre witnesses. But it is later, behind the closed door of the jury room, that he encounters the essence of the jury experience—he and eleven citizens from radically different backgrounds must hammer consensus out of confusion and strong disagreement. By the time he hands over the jury’s verdict, Burnett has undergone real transformation, not just in his attitude toward the legal system, but in his understanding of himself and his peers.
Offering a compelling courtroom drama and an intimate and sometimes humorous portrait of a fractious jury, A Trial by Jury is also a finely nuanced examination of law and justice, personal responsibility and civic duty, and the dynamics of power and authority between twelve equal people.
“Burnett manages to paint vivid portraits of his fellow-jurors and examine the knottier issues of class, race, and gender that complicate the justice system’s search for objective truth.” —The New Yorker
“A pleasure to read. . . . Illuminating and, ultimately, uplifting.” —The Nation
“Never have we been privy to actual jury room deliberations in all of their stark human complexity and perversity — and certainly never under the guidance of a sensibility, intelligence, and narrative skill like Mr. Burnett’s.” —New York Law Journal
“A remarkable achievement. . . . Rarely have we had so lucid an account by such an observant participant of what goes on behind the cloak of jury secrecy.” —The Economist
“As fascinating as any fictional courtroom thriller and a lot more thought-provoking than most. . . . Burnett has a keen intelligence and he’s a gifted writer—the book holds you in its grip.” —San Jose Mercury News
“Funny and keenly observed. . . . It is hard not to be moved by Burnett’s account.” —The New Republic
“Resembles a Tom Stoppard play—a drama both human and metaphysical. . . . A report from the trenches. . . . It’s not just the defendant who is on trial in A Trial by Jury, but the jury system and the jurors themselves.” —The New York Review of Books
“[Burnett illustrates] what a remarkable and sometimes remarkably strange duty serving on a jury can be. . . . A riveting look at citizen jurors at work.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“[Burnett] is a pleasant guide to an unpleasant case—thoughtful, candid, and a fluent stylist.” —The Denver Post
“A minor masterpiece, a mesmerizing story of a system that would be right at home in a Franz Kafka story. In many ways, [A Trial by Jury is] downright chilling. . . . It opens a window on a closed, substantially flawed process. . . . Burnett’s prose is crystal clear. . . . This is a fascinating story.” —The News Journal (Wilmington, DE)
“Burnett is a skilled observer and an excellent writer who composes with uncommon precision.”—The Boston Phoenix
“A revealing and provocative look inside the jury room.” —Boston Herald
“This book is a journey down into the grim boiler room of justice. Those who make this journey never forget the experience. They emerge seeing the world in a different way, and you’ll understand why after reading this book.” —Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action