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American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst Hardcover – Illustrated, August 2, 2016
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"The abduction and subsequent radicalization of Patricia Hearst is one of the most bizarre but illuminating episodes of that tumultuous era of protest...and in American Heiress Jeffrey Toobin retells the story with a full-blown narrative treatment that may astonish readers too young to remember it themselves...Toobin spins this complex chapter of recent history into an absorbing and intelligent page-turner."
—The Washington Post
"[A] clever companion piece to The Run of His Life (1996), his book about the O. J. Simpson case. Mr. Toobin has used the same winning formula of delving deeply into an American crime story that had tremendous notoriety in its day and retelling it with new resonance. Ms. Hearst’s tale is much more bizarre than Mr. Simpson’s... [I]n an age of terrorism, the chronicle of how a sedate heiress named Patricia morphed into a gun-toting, invective-spouting revolutionary calling herself Tania holds a definite fascination."
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“[R]iveting… American Heiress is a page-turner certainly, but Toobin, a gifted writer, infuses it with much more…Even if he ridicules the ideas and condemns the violent deeds of this ragtag group of revolutionary wannabes, they emerge not as cardboard villains but flesh and blood protagonists.”
—The Boston Globe
“Toobin has crafted a book for the expert and the uninitiated alike, a smart page-turner that boasts a cache of never-before-published details...Toobin’s book successfully captures the unrivaled spectacle of the Hearst drama.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Terrifically engrossing…Toobin uses his knowledge of the justice system and his examination of the evidence to pierce the veil of spectacle…As for Patty Hearst herself, Toobin treats her as a person, not a tabloid phantasm.
—New York Times Book Review
“[A] spell-binding retelling … In the end the real test of a writer’s worth is…how well they can tell a story that’s already been told many times before by many different people, including — in this case — by some of the main characters themselves. By that standard Toobin gets an A-plus for American Heiress… Everything about this book feels right: the structure, the style and the tone, which is the New Yorker meets Raymond Chandler. As always with great writing, it comes down to a strong, distinctive narrative voice spiced with the judicious use of juicy details.
About the Author
- Lexile Measure : 1110L
- Item Weight : 1.55 pounds
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385536712
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385536714
- Product Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
- Publisher : Doubleday; Illustrated Edition (August 2, 2016)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #343,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Read Jeffrey Toobin's "American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst" to find out. This meticulously researched book recounts the events from the evening of Hearst's kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) until her presidential pardon by Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001. Although Hearst refused to cooperate with the book, Toobin dug up a plethora of sources, including Hearst's own writings and recordings.
Was she a forced participant in fear for her life when she committed three bank robberies--including one in which a bank customer was murdered--and several bombings of police cars? Or was she brainwashed, losing her own power of thought and being so that like a robot she performed such heinous crimes? Or was she a willing and enthusiastic participant and fugitive from the law, who freely embraced as her own the SLA's perverted politics? Or was it a combination of these? Toobin lays out the evidence clearly.
"American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst" is a highly readable historical account of one of the biggest news stories of the 1970s. The best part of the book is the last sentence because it speaks so much about Patty Hearst's ability to be a chameleon and blend in with her surroundings. That sentence is brilliant! (No cheating and reading it before you get to the end. Besides, it won't have the same power and punch if you do that.)
Nevertheless, author-lawyer Jeffrey Toobin does catch the odd moments of dark humor in his comprehensive, caustic, and highly readable account of the SLA and Patty Hearst, along with its brushes with the famous of its era and our era, which include such names as Sally Jane Moore (one of President Ford's two attempted assassins), Lance Ito (then a law student), Thomas Noguchi ("Coroner to the Stars"), Jane Pauley (then an acting major), Darryl Gates (then a senior LAPD officer), and Larry Bird.
Toobin makes it pretty clear that the SLA's members were narrowly-educated kids who didn't have any real ideas but that they were against the system, and they coalesced their inchoate effort to overturn it around the least likely leader they could find: a sociopathic third-rate thug who drank plum wine, grooved on having his own private army of nubile women willing to shoot guns for him and have sex with him, whose outer limit of revolutionary thought was to hurl obscenities at the cops pursuing him for robbing banks and killing a school superintendent.
This bizarre band included an angry and drug-addicted stripper and sex worker; a lovelorn woman who wanted to see her killer boyfriend freed from jail; a quarrelsome married couple that fought each other more than the "system;" and an artistic lesbian who was clinging to her not-too-faithful girlfriend. They chose to kidnap Patty on the theory that they could trade her with the "Fascist Insect that Preys on the Life of the People" for two of their number held in prison, like spies being swapped in a Cold War movie at Berlin's Glienicke Bridge. Unfortunately for all concerned, the various police agencies were not going to play "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" with seven nutballs.
Instead, Patty, being rebellious and unhappy with her fiance and life of privilege, joined their cause, robbing a bank, shooting up a sporting goods store to help her buddies escape a shoplifting arrest, and living in Sullivan County, New York, for a year, even when her surviving captors were eager to be rid of her.
There are incredibly hilarious and sad scenes in the book, all well-rendered. The SLA takes their captive, and doesn't know what to do with her. They issue a ransom note without a demand. They then make an insane demand that the Hearsts give away millions of dollars in food, which turns into a disaster. They move from one hideout to the next, each one worse, finally going to Los Angeles, where one of their top members idiotically exposes himself by stealing a bandolier in a store. That enables the LAPD to find their address from a ticket in their van's window, and the SLA, instead of yielding to overwhelming forces (or the logic of the situation) opens fire on the uber-military LAPD. Biiiiiig mistake....the LAPD destroys their building, killing all inside. But Patty isn't there. She's with the quarreling and shoplifting couple.
They regroup back in San Francisco around some friends, one of whom is a sportswriter, who offers to spirit them across the nation to New York, so he can write the big book on their travails. The couple, tired of Patty out-radicalling them, suggest that the sportswriter take her off their hands, calling it a "Ransom of Red Chief" situation. Nope, Patty is a committed radical now. She's "Tania."
Patty/Tania spends a summer in New York, then goes back to Oakland to cause more chaos with the new SLA members, planting bombs and robbing a bank, and earning a marginal income by painting houses. Her return to Oakland attracts the attention of the FBI, which has been unable to find her (too busy cataloguing J. Edgar's dresses, I guess), and they storm her apartment with guns drawn. Patty immediately wets her pants.
Once incarcerated, she defiantly pumps her fist and lists "Urban Guerrilla" as her occupation, but lets her family handle her defense. Another massive mistake, as they hire the highly overrated and extremely flamboyant F. Lee Bailey, who promptly botches the case, being more concerned with his lecture tours and the book he's writing about the defense than actually getting Patty off. The prosecution wins its case when one of the paralegals notes that she wore (in that famous picture) and continued to wear a piece of Mexican art as a necklace, even though she said that came from her "rapist." That clinched the case...no woman wears a "gift" from her "rapist."
So Patty goes inside, Bailey's book doesn't sell (nobody wants to read about a botched defense), and her powerful family are ultimately able to wangle a parole from Jimmy Carter and a pardon from Bill Clinton on his last day in office, completing that circle. The other SLA survivors do time for their various crimes after years of evasion, mostly at the pressure of the victim's son. As for Patty...she turns into the mother she rebelled against by joining the SLA.
All of this is in the story, and it alternates readably between sadness, humor, absurdity, and tragedy. A great tale of a strange time with many echoes and messages for today.
Top reviews from other countries
For me the greatest strength of the book is placing the events of her kidnapping etc, within the broader framework of the turbulence of those times.
The book sheds light on the fundamental question of was she a willing participant in events or a victim.
The book is easy to read and follow, the writing flows and events are presented in an understandable and logical manner.
A great read!