A Trial by Jury
By D. Graham Burnett
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375727511, 208pp.)
Publication Date: October 15, 2002
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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.
D. Graham Burnett is a historian of science and the author of Masters of All They Surveyed. After graduating from Princeton University, he was a Marshall Scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1999, Chicago’s Newberry Library awarded him the Nebenzahl Prize in the History of Cartography. A 1999–2000 Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, he has taught at Yale and Columbia Universities, and is currently an assistant professor in the history department at Princeton.
“[Burnett] is a graceful, economical writer, with a sharp eye for detail and a nuanced feel for character. . . . Irresistible.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Immensely readable.” —The Washington Post
“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