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The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of…
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The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox

by Nina Burleigh

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It is difficult to get past the title of this well-researched take on the story of the infamous American foreign exchange student, Amanda Knox, who went to Italy in her junior year of college in 2007 to study languages and ended up convicted of the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. I don't dispute that if Knox had been 100 pounds heavier, eight shades darker, and covered in boils, her murder trial would not have been the media sensation it was. The title is also a quote describing Italy itself. I just don't agree with perpetuating society's prejudices in this manner. It pissed me off that the whole time I was reading the book I kept reevaluating Knox's aesthetics. Her physical appearance is not the point, or at least, certainly not the only one.

I prefer The Fatal Gift of Beauty to Angel Face (I'm comparing the books, not the titles, which seem equally dramatic). The latter is much more biased, and written in a way less enjoyable for the reader. In terms of prurient fun, Knox's own memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, is the best.

I'm pretty Knoxed out at the moment, but eventually I will make my way around to Raffaele Sollecito's (Knox's boyfriend and codefendant) book and see what he has to say. ( )
  dysmonia | Apr 15, 2014 |
It is difficult to get past the title of this well-researched take on the story of the infamous American foreign exchange student, Amanda Knox, who went to Italy in her junior year of college in 2007 to study languages and ended up convicted of the murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. I don't dispute that if Knox had been 100 pounds heavier, eight shades darker, and covered in boils, her murder trial would not have been the media sensation it was. The title is also a quote describing Italy itself. I just don't agree with perpetuating society's prejudices in this manner. It pissed me off that the whole time I was reading the book I kept reevaluating Knox's aesthetics. Her physical appearance is not the point, or at least, certainly not the only one.

I prefer The Fatal Gift of Beauty to Angel Face (I'm comparing the books, not the titles, which seem equally dramatic). The latter is much more biased, and written in a way less enjoyable for the reader. In terms of prurient fun, Knox's own memoir, Waiting to Be Heard, is the best.

I'm pretty Knoxed out at the moment, but eventually I will make my way around to Raffaele Sollecito's (Knox's boyfriend and codefendant) book and see what he has to say. ( )
  dysmonia | Apr 15, 2014 |
Burleigh's book is a careful, thorough, and insightful examination of the Knox investigation and trials. Her discussion of the history and culture of Italy, and specifically Perugia, is fascinating. She notes that the Italian criminal justice system is different from the U.S. system, but more importantly, her analysis places it in detailed context. She refers to Perugia's long history, its ancient pagan culture, its isolation, its location as an important freemasonry center, and other factors essential in the consideration of just how the crime, the investigation, the media coverage, and the verdict and sentencing happened.

At one point, late in the book, Burleigh says this: "The Perugians didn't know what to make of this unusual, slightly damaged girl with the inappropriate emotional responses, whose overconfident exterior masked a person with a deep aversion to conflict. Needing to solve the high-profile crime, they made a deduction about her and extracted a statement that put her at the scene. Everything in the investigation evolved from that...."

Two things occurred to me as I was reading this book. One is that if I had been in Amanda Knox's place, at age 20, with what I knew and how I acted at that age, I'd have looked pretty damn culpable myself, and I'd have been vulnerable to psychological coercion. It wouldn't have taken much pressure to make me wonder if what I thought was reality was actually completely wrong. And a public discussion of my short, problematic personal history wouldn't have helped at all.

The second thing that occurred to me was the remarkable similarity in process and outcome the Knox trial has with the McMartin Pre-School case and its many related iterations throughout the U.S. This 1980s and 1990s phenomenon of widespread suspicions of systematic, criminal pre-school child abuse, including Satanic ritual and sexual crimes, resulted in a panicky series of charges, arrests, and accusations. A number of people were convicted of heinous crimes, and despite the subsequent debunking, not to mention the alleged victims' recanting when they got older, a few people are still in U.S. prisons because of it. Was it because the American justice system was stupid or archaic? Were all the investigators and prosecutors stone-cold inquisitors? No. But a compelling theory got strong-armed into spurious "fact", and it took years for logical, fair, and fact-based investigation to prevail.

I think Amanda Knox got caught up in a similar civic and judicial storm, one that creates its own logic and is not easily remedied. ( )
2 vote Magatha | Oct 1, 2011 |
I think I am in the minority with my feelings on this book. I did not love this book. I knew next to nothing about Amanda Knox and the horrible crime that she was found guilty of. Normally when you read a true crime book you learn so much more about the crime and the people involved. I did not find that to be the case with this book. I finished it not knowing anymore than I did when I started it.The author did a lot of research and the book is filled with information but for me, it seemed like unnecessary information or redundant information. It told a lot about Italian history and Perugian history but it was too much. I would have liked to have had more detail on the crime and on Meredith and Amanda Knox. I came away feeling lost and confused. I think the author did a good job of trying to show Amanda Knox as innocent and unfairly sentenced. That could be, but I didn't come away from the book feeling one way or the other.If you are a true crime fan and familiar with the case it is worth reading. For one not so familiar with the case I don't know it this is the book to start with. As usual I say, read it yourself and then decide. ( )
  SenoraG163 | Sep 10, 2011 |
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Presents an account of the highly publicized 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher that examines the controversial prosecution, conviction, and sentencing of her American roommate while critiquing vulnerabilities in the Italian legal system.… (more)

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