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Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

384 Pages

Synopsis: On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a senior 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 photographs capturing “Tania” wielding a machine gun during a bank robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shootout 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 circus-like trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the phrase “Stockholm syndrome ” entered the lexicon.ย 

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 1500 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 recreates 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?

Stockholm Syndrome: An emotional attachment to a captor formed by a hostage as a result of continuous stress, dependence, and a need to cooperate for survival.

~ Dictionary.com ~

I was only nine-years-old when the insanity surrounding Patty Hearst exploded, so for years I really didn’t know much about what happened. But then, in 1984, I was in a college abnormal psychology class and the professor began discussing Stockholm syndrome and used her as the quintessential example of how this could happen. After that, I found myself fascinated by Patty Hearst and the question over her guilt or innocence. I’ve read a few books over the years but none as meticulously researched as this one by Jeffrey Toobin. He does a wonderful job setting the stage with the reexamination of the turbulent 1970s. I had absolutely no idea how many violently radical groups there were here in America during that time. The SLA was actually pretty tiny and rather inept by comparison. Toobin then goes into how overwhelmed the FBI was in dealing with this style of terrorism. The main bulk of the story though focuses on Patty, before and after the kidnapping, and the trial and its aftermath. Toobin’s many years of being a lawyer and legal analyst are definitely on display as he discusses the different arraignments, trials, and appeals. I was completely engaged and never once found my attention wandering. What I didn’t care for was his presumption of what was actually going on in Patty’s head. He did not talk to her personally (she doesn’t give interviews) nor is he a mental health expert. I have to be honest and admit that the parts of the book where he’s attempting to analyze her got a little annoying. However, from a historical and legal context, I think American Heiress is a thought-provoking book. I also liked how he ended the book by catching the reader up on where all the key players are today. If you’ve never heard of the Patty Hearst phenomenon but you like true-crime novels, I definitely recommend this. If you’re familiar with the case and you’ve already made up your mind regarding Hearst’s guilt or innocence I’m not sure that this will change your mind one way or another, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless.ย 

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