American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (August 2, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 7/10
Reading Sara Review: To begin, I was not alive during the kidnapping, crimes and later trial of Patty Hearst. I have heard about it in passing, but this was my first true foray into the madness, the mystery and the drama that unfolded during that time. With that being said, I enjoyed this book; I thought Toobin did an excellent job of staying neutral and relaying facts while also keeping the book interesting. It may be more interesting to someone who remembers it happening, though. While not a long book, it took me awhile to get through it. I took a few breaks and read some other things – but I did come back to it each time because Patty Hearst is an interesting character study.
For those like me that are less familiar with Patty Hearst, here is a quick breakdown. Hearst was an heiress to a publishing fortune, though always struggled to fit in with that society growing up. While attending Berkley as a sophomore in 1974, she was kidnapped by a group of revolutionaries, who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Because of the high-profile kidnapping, it was a big story at the time. It got more complicated when a few months later a tape was released of Patty saying that she had joined her kidnappers, the SLA.
There were many characters to keep track of, made more confusing by their nicknames. I wished Toobin would have stayed consistent with which he used. Many of them were extremely central to the narrative, but I kept forgetting who they were – what their background was. Sometimes Toobin would gently remind the reader, but it felt too late, I wasn’t emotionally connected to any of them. Except, certainly, Patty Hearst.
Hearst did not agree to work with Toobin on this book, so we still do not know what happened in Patty Hearst’s brain during those years. What was made clear was that she benefited greatly from her family’s money, her fame, and being a pretty white woman. This does not condemn her – there is other evidence that does that (in my opinion), but it does remind us about the unfairness of the justice system.
It is especially interesting to me how the people involved with the SLA quite literally grew up, moved on, created careers and had families – and for those still alive today, want to be left alone to move on with their lives (Hearst included). Just because they were young, does that mean that they shouldn’t pay for their crimes? Or does this prove that people can change, and perhaps sending people to prison is not always the right way to rehabilitate people? I don’t know all of the answers, but Toobin did an excellent job of keeping me interested in Patty Hearst and her kidnappers.