The iconic photograph of the heiress Patty Hearst posed with an automatic rifle in front of the 7-headed cobra symbolic of the Symbionese Liberation Army always mystified Jeffrey Toobin: is she bemused, frightened or just staring into space? Her kidnapping by the SLA, an often-feckless but always-vicious group of self-styled radicals in the 1970's, and her subsequent participation in their deadly crimes, led eventually to her capture, trial, and conviction. The question of whether she participated willingly, or was too traumatized to refuse, remains unclear, and is central to Toobin's marvelously fine-grained,compellingly readable book. Not at all debatable, he concludes, is the fact that the eventual commutation of her sentence, and later presidential pardon, were a product of her families wealth and power. We all understand the unfairness of that.— Georgeann
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?
About the Author
JEFFREY TOOBIN is the bestselling author of The Nine, for which he won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, The Oath, Too Close to Call, A Vast Conspiracy, and The Run of His Life, which was made into the critically acclaimed FX series The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the senior legal analyst at CNN.