AMERICAN HEIRESS by Jeffrey Toobin

AMERICAN HEIRESS

The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The ubiquitous legal journalist and author returns with a detailed but swiftly moving account of the 1974 kidnapping that mesmerized the nation.

Readers of a certain age will be astonished that this case is more than 40 years old. So much has changed, as New Yorker staff writer Toobin (The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court, 2012, etc.) effectively points out. He reminds us, for instance, that live TV feeds from crime scenes were a novelty that spread rapidly after the coverage of a shootout between some members of the Symbionese Liberation Army—the motley crew that kidnapped Patricia Hearst, the young heiress of the noted publishing family—and the federal and local authorities. Toobin begins with a quick account of the kidnapping, an introduction of the principals, and some 1970s cultural history, and then he moves into the slow conversion of Hearst into a trash-talking urban guerrilla (the term she later used to identify herself), her involvement in SLA criminal activities, and her sex life. The author occasionally shows us the doings of those left behind—principally her family and her fiance, Steven Weed, who does not come off well, then and now. (He bolted when the SLA arrived.) Toobin ably charts the bizarre inability of authorities to figure out this crew of barely competent revolutionaries. Once Patricia is caught and on trial for her SLA–related activities, the author’s considerable legal knowledge propels the narrative. He shows us that both the prosecution and the defense lacked competence, especially celebrated defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, whom Toobin paints as an opportunist inebriated with alcohol and celebrity. The author ends with an update on the principals and notes that Hearst resolutely refused to contribute to his book.

Despite the lack of participation from Hearst, this is a well-informed, engaging work from a highly capable author.

Pub Date: Aug. 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-53671-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2016




THE 10 MOST BUZZED-ABOUT BOOKS RIGHT NOW:

FictionSURRENDER, NEW YORK by Caleb Carr
by Caleb Carr
FictionTHE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead
by Colson Whitehead
NonfictionTHE FIRE THIS TIME by Jesmyn Ward
by Jesmyn Ward
NonfictionAMERICAN HEIRESS by Jeffrey Toobin
by Jeffrey Toobin
NonfictionKNOWN AND STRANGE THINGS by Teju Cole
by Teju Cole

OUR CRITICS' TAKES ON MORE BESTSELLERS

See full list >
Cover art for SCRAPPY LITTLE NOBODY
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for BORN A CRIME
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Cover art for SWING TIME
VERDICT:
BUY IT
Cover art for ODESSA SEA
VERDICT:
BORROW IT
Kirkus Interview
Jeffrey Toobin
August 2, 2016

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 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, Jeffrey Toobin’s new book American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst 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? “Despite the lack of participation from Hearst, this is a well-informed, engaging work from a highly capable author,” our reviewer writes. View video >

MORE BY JEFFREY TOOBIN

NonfictionTHE OATH by Jeffrey Toobin
by Jeffrey Toobin
NonfictionTHE NINE by Jeffrey Toobin
by Jeffrey Toobin

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTHE GREAT NEW ORLEANS KIDNAPPING CASE by Michael A. Ross
by Michael A. Ross
NonfictionANATOMY OF INJUSTICE by Raymond Bonner
by Raymond Bonner
NonfictionCEMETERY JOHN by Robert Zorn
by Robert Zorn