American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

by Jeffrey Toobin

Hardcover, 2016





Doubleday Books (2016), 384 pages


From New Yorker staff writer and bestselling author of The Nine and The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson, the definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore in college and heiress to the Hearst family fortune, was kidnapped by a ragtag group of self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army. The already sensational story took the first of many incredible twists on April 3, when the group released a tape of Patty saying she had joined the SLA and had adopted the nom de guerre "Tania." The weird turns of the tale are truly astonishing--the Hearst family trying to secure Patty's release by feeding all the people of Oakland and San Francisco for free; the bank security cameras capturing "Tania" wielding a machine gun during a robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shoot-out in American history; the first breaking news event to be broadcast live on television stations across the country; Patty's year on the lam, running from authorities; and her circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the term "Stockholm syndrome" entered the lexicon. The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, American Heiress thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1,500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and re-creates her melodramatic trial. American Heiress examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors' crusade. Or did she?From the Hardcover edition.… (more)

Media reviews

In the end, Toobin returns to the specific mystery of Patricia Hearst, whom he finds fascinating even when incredible. Now an establishment matron attending dog shows, with all evidence of “Tania” seemingly erased, she remains complex, capable of simultaneously being a sincere convert to her surroundings and a savvy protector of her own interest.
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She wound up serving minimal prison time and receiving special treatment from two presidents: commutation of sentence from Jimmy Carter and a pardon from Bill Clinton. Note the “Heiress” in the title. Mr. Toobin points out that American prisons are full of people who are led astray and wind up committing criminal acts. They have no chance at one act of clemency, let alone two.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Stewartry
The stupid runs very deep in this story. Patricia Hearst was young and ignorant and self-centered; the revolutionaries were pretty much morons, or delusional at best; the FBI wasn't any too sharp...

The other notable characteristic of the people featured in this book is a marked lack of loyalty. That is, among the SLA there seemed to be cohesion – sort of, for some, sometimes – but Patricia Hearst's erstwhile fiancé Steve Weed seems to have been the weediest and weaseliest of weeds, universally despised (including by the author – and me). And of course Patricia herself turned on a dime, bending with whatever breeze most benefited her. Jeffrey Toobin's sympathies obviously lie with her parents, most especially her father Randy; it's natural, and I agreed, but it's also a little startling to see such blatant bias in what I expected to be a journalistic biography/history.

Toobin is the reason I requested this book, along with the fact that I knew surprisingly little about the whole saga. The author's name rang bells, and when I Goodsearched him his face brought instant recognition (if not exact memories of where from). But I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed by the writing; it tends to loop and double back on itself, and the repetetiveness gets a bit old now and then. (Cujo, was the love of Patricia's life. I know. I know. So was Soliah. I know.)

It's a story of how the idealism of the 60's died ("Nixon might not have brought the Vietnam War to a close, but he did end the draft. Freed from the threat of conscription, many thousands of otherwise apolitical young people drifted away from the antiwar movement.") The sheer number of bombings in the country is shocking in this day of modern terrorism; the world hasn't gotten more dangerous, in a way, but the danger now tends to come from different sources. Jaded cynicism seems to have been the rule in the 70's, and is embodied by the … I hesitate to say "heroine" of the story.

Patricia, not Patty, declined to be interviewed for the book – which I have to say, given the tone of the book toward her, might not have been a good idea. It reminded me a little of the book about Mary Decker and Zola Budd; Decker refused to participate, and Budd was given a far kinder treatment in the book. Toobin's attitude toward Patricia wasn't quite so blatant, but he was less than kind in places; where there is any doubt as to her motivations or honesty or level of compulsion, he tends to land on the side of doubting her.

There were some side angles in the book which took me by surprise. I didn't know anything about the "PIN" (People In Need) program that was initiated by the initial ransome demands, and the whole thing was disheartening. (For one thing, this Reagan quote: "It’s just too bad we can’t have an epidemic of botulism.") The psycho contingent connected with the project was surprising as well – I won't spoil it in case it's news to you as it was to me, but … gosh.

The book covers how the kidnapping came to happen, one version of the events of the long period of Patricia's captivity-slash-participation and how it all came crashing down, and the repercussions to all involved. It's not a great book; I'm not sure it's even all that good a book. But it was entertaining, and it's good to have a gap in my education filled in.

Lessons learned from this book:
—Rich isn't necessarily rich.
—Stupid is at least as scary as smart.
—Building bombs generates team spirit.
—Just because there's no smell of cyanide doesn't mean it's not there – you might just be one of the ten percent who can't smell it.
—Always know where your shoes are.
—Always know where your Molotov cocktails are.
And, most prevalently and most importantly:
—Change your story enough times, and no one – possibly including you – will ever know the truth.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.
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LibraryThing member flourgirl49
I remember when Patricia Hearst was kidnapped - I was in my 20s at the time - and how bizarre the whole thing was. Looking back, those were almost surreal times that we were living in. It is fascinating now to read the details about what actually happened. Author Jeffrey Toobin has done a masterful job of gathering and studying all of the evidence and personal papers belonging to the participants and has written a meticulous and comprehensive recounting of this most strange affair.… (more)
LibraryThing member stevesmits
An interesting and well-researched account of the one of the most notorious criminal/legal episodes of the 1970’s. Toobin’s access to mountains of documents provides a detailed recapitulation of Patty Hearst’s saga with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small band of urban guerrillas that embodied the far extremes of radicalism of the post-Vietnam, Nixonian era.

The story intrigues on several planes. How was it that this heiress to the publishing fortune, a stereotypical product of class and privilege, became a violent revolutionary almost overnight? Did she follow them through fear? Was she “brainwashed”, a victim of the so-called “Stockholm syndrome” whereby hostages are converted to the beliefs of their captors? What kind of personality is needed for a genuine conversion to take place. How, once arrested, did justice in the American sense of it play out, particularly what does this affair tell of the relationship of money and power to equal justice?

Hearst, at age nineteen, was only untypical of young persons of her age in that she was from one of the country’s most elite families. She showed the usual antipathy of teenagers toward her parents, especially her mother. She had ended up in a bourgeois pre-marital life style with her fiancé, a somewhat pompous controlling older guy who had once been her high school teacher. The kidnapping was a terrifying event, to be sure, but Hearst within a few weeks seems to have genuinely adopted the radical perspectives of the small band of revolutionaries to the point of earning their complete trust. She willingly took a part in planning and executing criminal activities like bank robberies and bombings. Although her legal defense not surprisingly later claimed that she was in constant fear of death if she did not cooperate this does not appear at all to be the case.

Toobin’s assessment of Hearst’s nature is a bit perplexing. He describes her at times as independent minded and smart and at others as vulnerable. Clearly, she was prone to falling under the sway of authority figures around her, followed by abrupt about faces and disavowal of the others she had fervently accepted. Her relationship with her former high school teacher gives proof of this. Most certainly, her rapid acceptance of the views and actions of the SLA members and her intense romantic relationships with several of them speaks to this trait of hers. It is telling that she so quickly switched back to her previous life as a member of the elite class after her arrest. Was this calculated to foster her defense of criminal charges? I don’t think so.

Her path through the legal system is a fascinating aspect of this story. That justice in America is apportioned according to wealth and privilege is patently shown in what happened to her. Money buys considerable advantage in criminal proceedings. The Hearst’s purchased one of the country’s most prominent criminal defense attorneys, F. Lee Bailey. (It was a feeling of a bit of sangfroid to see the incompetence realized from this sizable investment in the egotistical Bailey.) That the arc of justice is a bit wobbly, if not perverse, is shown in the outcomes of her trial and those of the surviving SLA members and associates. For instance, the murder of the women in the bank robbery was never judicially satisfied.

Most appalling, however, was the influence of social, economic and political elitism on the campaign to commute and pardon Hearst for her participation in quite violent crimes. An amazing roster of worthies (even including Ronald Reagan) appealed to the Justice Department and ultimately successfully to Presidents Carter and Clinton to absolve Hearst from her criminal acts. That such relief is utterly unavailable to thousands of other petitioners speaks volumes about our inequitable system of justice.
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LibraryThing member Karen59
This review is from: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst (Kindle Edition).

I remember the kidnapping of Patty Hearst very clearly. I was 14 years old, and even though I lived in NYC I was terrified. I wrote about it in my diary and followed it on the news. It was riveting. My parents were liberal and anti-war and although we talked about the politics of the SLA and all of the issues connected to that time I was mostly focused on Patty Hearst's horrible ordeal.

Jeffrey Toobin's American Heiress goes deep into the details of Patty Hearst's kidnapping and he crafts a compelling and breathtaking narrative of that time. His profiles of the SLA were especially knowledgeable and it deepened my understanding of who they were, individually and collectively. It is the best account I have read about the kidnapping and beautifully and densely written.

And yet, I was disturbed by Mr. Toobin's conclusions. Although he tries to act as if he maintained his neutrality it seems pretty clear that he believes that Ms. Hearst was a willing accomplice. He does not even consider that Ms Hearst may have suffered from PTSD. With all of the the meticulous, peer reviewed research that we now have about the impact of traumatic events on the brain it seen negligent that he did not examine it as a possible reason for her actions. Yes, Mr Toobin did talk about the Stockholm Syndrome but that is old data. Over these past decades we have learned so much more about PTSD and trauma especially as it pertains to sexual abuse and rape. I was so disappointed that this is never looked at in his book. If he did, he might have come to a different, and more complex, conclusion.

Equally disturbing to me was the ending section of his book, his last zing when notes that Patty is now more like her mother which is supposed to be bad since Mrs. Hearst is viewed as staid, rich, spoiled and entitled. I am hard pressed to see how he came up with that idea. And what does it even mean? Patty was a teenager when she was kidnapped, a time when many adolescent daughters are typically trying to separate from their mothers and hold some contempt for them. This often changes when teenage girls become adults as they grow to appreciate their mothers (women's) life. How exactly does Mr. Toobin know the inner workings of their relationship after she came home and how it might have changed Mrs. Hearst as a person and as a mother? Why assume that both Patty and her mother are still locked in their old, old dance. Finally, what if Patty is like her mother. So what? Again, we have absolutely no idea what this even means but his judgement seems flip and cold.

So, excellent writing, beautiful and dense descriptions yet his lack of empathy for Ms. Hearst is quite disturbing.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Penguin Random House for allowing me to review this book for an honest opinion.
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LibraryThing member mjspear
The definitive book on the kidnapping, crimes, and trial of Patty Campbell Hearst. The title pretty much gives it away: Author Toobin believes that were it not for Ms Hearst's "social status" along with a large dollop of white privilege, she would have faced a much harsher fate from the law and the justice system. Toobin writes a detailed but not plodding account of her kidnapping, slow conversion to the SLA movement, the various crimes of these revolutionaries, her capture, trial, and subsequent fate. No spoilers will be revealed here but this reader was surprised, even after all these years, to get the full story. Toobin spares little sympathy for his main character.The real victims are those who were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during the bank robberies and a few of the idealistic, genuinely pacifistic early members of the group. True crime writing at its best.… (more)
LibraryThing member jtlauderdale
A fast-reading description of a sad (and sometimes ridiculous) chapter in our history.
LibraryThing member gpangel
American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin is a 2016 Doubleday publication.

In 1974, I was too young to understand the constant news coverage of the Patty Hearst kidnapping. I do have memories of the story making headlines for what seemed like forever. But, I honestly had no interest in the debate surrounding her guilt or innocence.

As I got older, I developed a curiosity about the case and hoped to find a book on the subject that would not have an agenda attached to it, or was slanted in some way. I wanted an in depth analysis of the events, told in a journalistic manner, which is hard to find. There have been countless books, TV documentaries, movies based on actual events, all telling their own version of events.

When I saw how highly rated and well received this book was, I thought this was probably my best chance of learning the real and unbiased facts surrounding the bizarre kidnapping of Patricia Hearst and the aftermath of it.

It may be impossible to write such a book without having already formed an opinion, or for one to develop once the task has begun. Despite his best efforts to keep to the facts in the case, the author’s personal opinion of Patricia is obvious.

Despite that, the book seems to have been meticulously researched, is very well organized, and is told with a clear, strong voice that commands the reader’s attention from start to finish.

For those, like myself, who were not old enough to remember the details of the case, or the climate in the 1970’s. This book will take you back to an era of violence and conflict that in our consciousness, we seem to have forgotten all about. In fact, only a month or so ago, I wrote a book review in which I expressed the opinion that the sixties were turbulent and violent, but once the seventies arrived, things settled down and the violence soon tapered off.

Toobin immediately challenges that concept, pointing out various politically motivated crimes, Watergate, serial killers and assassination attempts on the President, Jim Jones, as well as factions like the Zebra killers. The seventies was not all about dancing under mirror balls after all. In fact, it was one of the most violent decades to date. So, I stand corrected.

So, not only is this book about the Hearst kidnapping, but is also about the state our country was in during the seventies, which apparently was rather bleak.

I was shocked by some of the names that cropped up in this book, those associated with the Hearst family, but also those associated in some ways the SLA ,(Symbionese Liberation Army), of which I had never heard a thing about before now.

The transformation of Patricia Hearst, from being a nineteen year old college student, sheltered and perhaps naïve, only moderately rebellious against her parents, to a gun toting bank robber, spouting off extremist rhetoric, and back again, was shocking, jarring, and amazing.

The transformations she went through are very curious and the general consensus is that she was brainwashed and suffered from ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’

It’s impossible to argue with the facts, and the fact is, Patricia was taken by force, at gunpoint, while she was quite young. Living a pampered, perhaps slightly isolated life, she may have been easily molded by these extremist radicals, but there is enough doubt, based on the facts presented in this book to give one pause.

Although we live through the events of Patricia’s captivity, the trial, the aftermath and fallout of this eighteen month ordeal, in the end, Patricia Heart remains an enigma. It is my understanding that she in no way participated in or endorsed this book, and still lives a relatively quiet life, never again causing controversy or exhibiting any hint of violence.

Yet, I have to wonder if she’s ever expressed or felt remorse or guilt for her role in the deaths of innocent people. I must say, that by the end of the book, the author had me convinced he was right about Patty. But, it is up to you, once you’ve read this accounting of events to make that decision for yourself.

Overall, this is a very thought provoking book, which will appeal to history buffs, as well as true crime readers.
4.5 stars
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LibraryThing member gbelik
The story of Patty Hearst, her kidnapping and exploits with the Symbionese Liberation Army, and then her subsequent trial was fascinating at the time. It is gripping now to experience it in a well organized, well presented manner in this book, with far more detail than I ever knew. The author presents a thoughtful and believable portrait of Patty Hearst and he does a great job of explaining the activities and personalities and even a little of the future lives of the other characters involved in this tale. It is a return to the 70's for anyone who lived it, and a way to capture the spirit of the time for anyone who didn't.… (more)
LibraryThing member 1Randal
Toobin's latest effort tackles the circus that was the Patty Hearst kidnapping of the mid-1970's. He knocked this one out of the ballpark!
Many do not remember the early to mid 1970's, but it was a time of high drama for the United States. Nixon, the oil embargo, high inflation, Watergate. While we fret over today's latest round of terrorists, people forget about the bombings that occurred almost daily then. 1972 had 1,962 actual and attempted bombings. 1973, 1,955 bombings. 1974, 2,044 bombings. Dozens of people were killed. Groups like the Weathermen, the Death Angels, the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam spread their terror. While today we worry about the Black Lives Matter group, back then the Death Angels (Zebra killers) had a campaign to kill white people simply because they were white.
Following in these anarchist groups footsteps, a ragtag group of incompetent dunderheads formed and called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Never more than a handful strong, they gained notoriety by kidnapping the daughter of a famous newspaper magnate, Patricia Hearst.
And thus begins Toobin's book. He covers in depth Hearst's actual kidnapping, her imprisonment, her conversion to becoming a member of the SLA, the crimes she committed while with the SLA (and they were many), her time as a fugitive, her capture, and finally, her trial. The trial was, at that time, "the trial of the century". Americans were introduced to terms such as brainwashing, and the Stockholm Syndrome.
Toobin does his best not to divulge his opinion on the culpability of Hearst in her crimes, instead he provides a balanced set of facts and lets the reader make up their own mind. It is fascinating reading.
One thing that really stood out to me in the story was how many famous or soon-to-be famous people were involved in the Hearst saga. Judge Lance Ito (of future OJ Simpson infamy), Sara Jane Moore (later involved in an assassination attempt on President Ford), Ronald Reagan, the Mary Tyler Moore TV show, Kathy Soliah (fugitive for over 20 years before capture and tabloid infamy), the Nation of Islam, the Weather Underground, Bill Walton (the basketball player), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (also attempted assassin of President Ford), F. Lee Bailey (infamous attorney of the era), the Reverend Jim Jones (of the Guyana massacre), Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, ESPN, and a host of others that I am forgetting. Toobin weaves all these people seamlessly into his book.
I have my own opinions on the Hearst debacle, and I won't share them with the readers of this review to avoid tainting their own decision. Instead, I will end my review with one of the last lines in Toobin's book, "rarely have the benefits of wealth, power, and renown been as clear as they were in the aftermath of Patricia's conviction". You would think we would learn, but history seems to be destined to repeat itself over and over again.
While at times a bit ponderous, this book tells a great story that we should all remember. Maybe then we won't repeat our blunders over and over again!
Highly recommend!
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5424. American Heiress The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, by Jeffrey Toobin (read 19 Nov 2016) This a tremendously well researched book and since it was written more than 40 years after Patty Hearst was kidnapped on Feb 4, 1974, it tells the fantastic story more completely than it has ever been told before. I confess I had forgotten how the trial turned out, so that made teh book even more interesting. But even if you remember the outcome of the trial this book will tell you more than any prior account of the amazing case. I tend t agree with the author's conclusions. After she was captured in Septemberof 1975--having been on the run for over a year--her father retained F. Lee Bailey to defend her, at a time when his reputation had not yet been sullied and before he was disbarred, of course. One can agree that he did not do a good job. I always have trouble with a lawyer who during a trial uses alcohol, although maybe that shows a lack of confidence in the stimulating effects of such on some. It seems like something so strongly contraindicated that I cannot conceive a lawyer doing as competent a job as he would if he stayed totally sober during the trial. I cannot believe the story of Patty Hearst will ever be better told than Toobin has done in this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member guhlitz
Jeffrey Nails this one on the head. Every last detail investigated, cross referenced and fact checked. Over 40 years in the making. This was pure mythology for me, before I read the book. The Seven Headed Cobra is alive in "American Heiress". Definitely recommended in this age we live in; Possibly more relevant than Orwell or Huxley. Art Influences Life Influences Art.… (more)
LibraryThing member dougcornelius
A fascinating look at the random violence of the early 1970s, as radical movements turned to violence to express themselves. In the case of Patricia Hearst it was inept terrorists, who kidnapped her in an attempt, probably, to fund themselves.

It's in sharp contrast to today where citizens and the government take a much less amused look at terrorists or would-be terrorists.… (more)
LibraryThing member SigmundFraud
A fascinating read. A page turner. An event I remember so well but it is fleshed out in this exhaustive definite take on the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst and all that followed. I confess that I would have had trouble deciding as a juror on the case. She clearly was kidnapped and raped despite what the book says, but it seems to me she eventually had plenty of opportunities to flee if she had wanted to. Therein lies the ambiguity. I would definitely make a detour to read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member olegalCA
Fascinating story of Patty Hearst - I thought I knew the story before I picked up the book but it was filled with lots of information I had no idea about. Totally changed my mind about the entire case.
LibraryThing member hfineisen
American Heiress is a rollercoaster of a ride through the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst. The question becomes was she a willing participant in the crimes committed by the SLA after her kidnapping or was she a victim, brainwashed. The incident that introduced Stockholm Syndrome happens six months prior and the Jim Jones Guyana poisonings happens after so this is an interesting test of what was really known psychologically at the time. Toobin is a good storyteller and keeps the story flowing, right up to the end. And the last line of the book is great. This is also a good summary of the political and social upheaval of the time.

Copy provided by NetGalley
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I found this book fascinating. Mr. Toobin has done a lot of research,though he was unable to speak with Patricia Hearst herself. In this book, she sets the stage by describing the overall counter-culture of the 1970s in California, helping to better put the actions of the SLA and Patty Hearst in an historical context. I found the book easy to read, well-written and comprehensive.

I was intrigued by Patty's decision to join the SLA, then her equally strong conviction to rejoin the life she'd left behind. Many have described her as a strong woman -- and she is in many respects -- but she seems to also be easily influenced.
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LibraryThing member swmproblems
Even though I was already well aware of how this story would end, I still found the book really interesting, exciting and easy to read. After reading my first Jeffery Toobin book, it definitely wont be my last. Now if only we can keep him from masterbating on Zoom calls with his coworkers we'll be ok.
LibraryThing member Baochuan
Very good description of the events and aftermath. Peoples' life were touched and changed and the perception of people'd mind change based on the situations surronding their life. It is a well done book.
LibraryThing member seasonsoflove
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.

Say the name Patty Hearst, and chances are people will have heard that name before. But how much do we really know about her and her story? In American Heiress, Toobin uses his access to unprecedented amounts of material to tell the tale of Patty Hearst , a member of the rich and powerful Hearst family. Her kidnapping by a fringe band of renegades led to her joining their group and fully participating in their meant-to-be revolutionary actions. But was it her choice, or a form of brainwashing?

This was a fascinating non-fiction read. I've always been interested in Patty Hearst, especially the psychological underpinnings of the never truly answered question of her compliance, but didn't really know that much besides the basic details mentioned in every article about her. Toobin, however, clearly knows a lot, and highlights this in a well-written and excellently-researched tome, that really captures the complexities of the multitude of issues raised.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Toobin not only tells Hearst's tale, but that of each individual in the group that kidnapped her, those they came into contact with, her famous family, and every one involved in her legal battles. Toobin certainly comes to his own conclusions regarding Hearst, but he also provides you with the facts to make your own decision.This is a well-rounded, well-researched, well-written encapsulation of a moment in time that reverberated throughout the decades.
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LibraryThing member thelibraryladies
I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, and my usual stomping grounds were also in upper middle class areas. One of those neighborhoods was one that I could bike to, to hit the local Barnes and Noble, get a Starbucks mocha, and maybe go see a movie. This neighborhood also happened to be the same neighborhood that Sara Jane Olson, aka Kathy Soliah of the Symbionese Liberation Army, was found in after decades on the lam. My parents, both former anti-war protestors and pinko liberals of the 1960s and 70s, were pretty stunned, and when they explained who Soliah and the SLA were, I was stunned too. It was around this time that I was first introduced to the story of Patty Hearst, the heiress to the Hearst Fortune who was kidnapped by the SLA, only to join up with them. Sure, Hearst has kind of entered the pop cultural zeitgeist after all these years, that famous ‘Tania Picture’ pretty recognizable to even those who don’t necessarily know the significance of it. Hell, I had this picture on my bedroom door in high school (in vague protest of local gun legislation, but I digress). But outside of knowing the very basics of the case, I knew very little about Patty Hearst outside of this photograph. So when “American Heiress” ended up at my library, I decided it was time to learn more.

Toobin, a writer for the New Yorker, tells a comprehensive and detailed story not only about Patty and her kidnapping, but the crimes that the SLA committed before, during, and after, the trials and scrutiny that Patty faced, and the social and political climate of the United States in the 1970s. Gone were the idealistic days of the 1960s, and the 1970s was a time of much anger and frustration, as well as uncertainty. Nixon had recently been exposed for his corruption with the Watergate Scandal, gas prices were astronomical, and tensions were high. The Symbionese Liberation Army fancied itself a revolutionary group, but was less akin to peaceful protest and discourse, and more interested in bombs and murder (including the assassination of school superintendent Marcus Foster). Toobin does a great job of profiling our main players in the SLA, and his profiles are expansive and in depth. He also does a very good job of profiling Patty and her life pre-kidnapping. She was a student at Berkeley, engaged to an older man, and already feeling a little bit unappreciated and approaching a stagnancy. His descriptions of all these factors, as well as explanations of various societal events and views, all mix together to bring the reader right into this setting. I could almost feel the tension in the air.

What I also liked was that Toobin was pretty good at presenting a lot of this neutrally and seemingly without a conclusion he wanted the reader to draw. That may be in part to the fact that Patty Hearst didn’t have anything to do with this book, and declined to work with him on it. Because of that, Toobin has to work with other sources. He still managed to present a well thought out analysis of many factors within this crime. One of the biggest turns of the crime was the fact that Patty ‘joined’ her captors and began to commit crimes with them, releasing propaganda images and films denouncing her former life. She was eventually tried and convicted, in spite of the defense’s arguments that she was suffering from Stolkholm Syndrome. Eventually she was pardoned by President Carter. Toobin has really set out just to tell the story as it was, and how the SLA could have influenced her choices to cooperate. While the SLA didn’t have the competence to actually systematically brainwash her, it was, in a way, their short sightedness in their plan that may have led to her cooperation. They kidnapped her with no plan, and were constantly threatening her life and waffling with what to do with her. Because of this, through a need to survive and adapt, it could be argued that Hearst decided that to save herself, be it consciously or not, she needed to become one of them. But not once does Toobin go so far as to suggest that there is no responsibility there. After all, he also points out that she was angry with her parents for how they seemingly handled her kidnapping, and felt that they had turned their back on her. And by the end, I don’t really know where I fall in the argument. I jumped between ‘If she wasn’t a Hearst, or a white woman, or rich, she would have been in prison for far longer than eighteen months’, and ‘this poor girl was a complete victim and was completely railroaded!’. I still don’t really know where I stand, but I appreciate that. It shows that Toobin knows that it’s almost too complex for any solid answers to come out of it, especially after all this time. Honestly, it’s a combination of all those things. She was certainly a victim. But many victims don’t get the luxury of being seen as one.

The book is a little dense, so I hard a slower time getting through it, but in it’s density we get a whole lot of really interesting facts. I had no idea that so many familiar names were involved in this case. This runs the gamut from perhaps obvious people, like Ronald Reagan who was the Governor of California of the time (who said some pretty wretched things about poor minorities in relation to this case, surprise surprise), to the less obvious like Desi Arnaz (who was a family friend of Patty’s parents and whisked them away on a vacation to help them take their mind off of things). While sometimes this book could get a little off track with these things, I found it all pretty engrossing.

I think that true crime fans would like this book, but so would history buffs, and possibly even people interested in psychology and sociology. Patty Hearst is still around, making public appearances here and there, be it at the Westminster Dog Show or on TV. I don’t think anyone can really know everything about her outside of her, and she isn’t going to address it anytime soon. Nor should she have to. That said, Jeffrey Toobin does a great job of postulating and assessing various factors in her kidnapping fairly and in an insightful way. “American Heiress” was a good read, and I’m happy I know more about the poor girl whose chilling photo was on my bedroom door.
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LibraryThing member nancyjean19
An interesting saga, but there was something about Toobin's style that I didn't connect with. Though I understand that the SLA members were criminals, I thought his tone towards them and Patty was a bit unnecessarily condescending. Maybe Toobin never had an impressionable or politically active phase, or maybe he just forgot what it was like to be young, but I think more context about the political mood of the era and less context about specific cops and FBI agents involved would have deepened the story for me.… (more)
LibraryThing member Anamie
Jeffrey Toobin tells a point-by-point narrative of every player in the Patricia Hearst case. The writing has some repetition but it does not take away from interest of the story. The portrayal brought me to question Patricia's experiences within the SLA. I both sympathized and felt critical of her actions. It was a mixed bag. Everyone had a different side of the story. It is a yet another case of how money can speak.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beamis12
I remember seeing this on the news, Patty Hearst's kidnapping, her picture carrying a gun into the bank as they robbed it and her subsequent capture eighteen months or so later. But, this is all I knew. Never knew what came later, was fairly young and probably more interested in my own life at that point.

Tobin does a fantastic job, explaining the radical undercurrents of the seventies, details about all those in the SLA., never knew they were so small a group. How unprepared the FBI was in dealing with this type of terrorism, the trial, the inconsistencies, Patty's parents and their reactions, very through., well written. Loved the way this was laid out, and I loved the ending chapter where the author caught us up on where all the key players are now, what happened to them. Have to admit to not liking Party very much, though I suppose despite varying opinions she is the only one who really knows if she was a willing participant or not. Still another prime example of money and power buying what others were not able to achieve. The last sentence in the author's note is a humdinger, and maybe in an ironic way the only justice to be found in this case.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
I've been looking forward to reading this book since I have a single degree of separation from this event. Bill Harris, one of Patty Heart's kidnappers, went to high school with the boyfriend of one of my friends from college & I went to several parties where he was in attendance while I was going to school in Indiana. This connection riveted us at the time, but with the passage of 40 yeas, I have clearly forgotten (or maybe I never knew) how so many of the strains of radical like in the 1970's all intersected with this kidnapping.

Toobin,as always, tells a great story although it does become difficult st times to keep all the characters straight. While seeming to have sympathy for the main character in the beginning of the book, by the end the author has clearly become disenchanted with Hearst and feels like she threw her comrades and lover under the bus - clearly perjuring herself in her testimony - in order to be treated with some leniency by the court. And, in the end, her family's money bought her a pardon so she ultimately walked away scott free.

For those who weren't living 40 years ago, this is a great dive into the zeitgeist of the times and a good look at how money and power influences the justice system.
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LibraryThing member techeditor
You may think you already know the story of Patricia Hearst. I thought I did. It was a big news story back in the 1970s. I’m about Hearst’s age, so it interested me at the time.

I knew that Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) and soon thereafter became a member of the SLA. Along with the SLA, she robbed a California bank at gunpoint. It became apparent to most adults around me that she was a spoiled rich girl gone way bad. She was eventually arrested and jailed, but she was then pardoned by, I thought, President Carter.

Read Jeffrey Toobin‘s AMERICAN HEIRESS, and you will know a lot more about this story than I did. You may even think that it is sometimes more than you need to know.

From what I can tell, Toobin just relates the facts of the case and does not give his opinion except to sometimes be sarcastic. But I was disappointed that he barely brings up the possibility that Stockholm Syndrome caused Hearst to act as she did with the SLA. That’s what she claims. So why not?
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9.6 inches


0385536712 / 9780385536714
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