Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read

American Heiress – Jeffrey Toobin #20BooksofSummer


Although I vaguely knew the story of Patsy Hearst it turns out I didn’t know very much at all, thanks to Jeffery Toobin I am now appraised not only about the facts of the case but of the political climate in the US at the time.

I’m not normally a fan of politics in my reading matter but without the political rhetoric, Patsy Hearst’s kidnapping would not have happened in the first place, we can’t begin to understand one without the other.

Patsy Hearst was a wealthy heiress to the Hearst’s family fortune. At the time of the kidnapping on 4 February 1974 she was living with her boyfriend, not exactly estranged from her family, but her mother in particular disapproved of her lifestyle. But Patsy was young, it was the 1970s and she was finding her feet. At the same time the self-styled revolutionaries calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army were looking to make the headlines and to do so they needed a story so they set-up a fairly shambolic kidnap. Luckily for them Patsy’s boyfriend wasn’t really up for a fight of any description and ran in the opposite direction. So Patsy was taken hostage and if you follow one point of view, she was brainwashed into becoming part of the Symbionese Liberation Army herself. The other point of view is that she didn’t need brainwashing, she believed in their aims. The world was all agog when two months later she was taped telling her family that this was what she wanted and she now had the nom de guerre “Tania.”

From the little I know it appears to me that this is an author who not only knows his stuff but is able to put it across so that those of us who have no understanding can access the information and gain an insight into the place, the times and the psychology of those involved. Jeffery Toobin explains how the family made its fortune and the reality, as opposed to the headlines, of what funds he was really able to raise.

But for me the best part of the book was to explain the era in terms of American social and political history. I won’t lie, I knew next to nothing to begin with so it could be called an ‘easy sell’ but I found the context and background really interesting. My précis of Jeffrey Toobin’s measured analysis was that there was a new angry generation wanting more financial security with fewer wars which they didn’t believe in with the result that domestic terrorism was booming. Sound familiar anyone?

What I had never appreciated before reading this book was that although the SLA were led by a male ex-prisoner with a somewhat erratic personality, there were a number of radical feminists in the group and therefore it was quite conceivable at that time that the former wealthy young Patricia was drawn to their cause. It therefore isn’t such a huge leap to understand that after the group became separated that the fight for survival was all that mattered. There are lots of shocking facts in this part of the story which I was completely unaware of but I’m pleased to say the tone of the book remains factual.

Nor does the author spend a lot of time trying to convince us of Patricia’s culpability or otherwise, he presents the facts and sometimes gives us one view or another but he plays it fairly straight. It is really up to the reader to decide and play the psychoanalyst with the tools he has provided.

Overall the book is a comprehensive look at the kidnap, the intervening years that Patricia Hearst spent as a revolutionary plus short book-ends on her life as a child and what happened afterwards.

“In the end, notwithstanding a surreal detour in the 1970s, Patricia led the life she for which she was destined back in Hillsborough. The story of Patricia Hearst, as extraordinary as it once was, had a familiar, even predictable ending. She did not turn into a revolutionary. She turned into her mother.”

American Heiress is my ninth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that I feel has broadened my understanding of an era as well as educating me about a story I thought I knew about, but it turns out I didn’t really know anything at all. Now I do!

First Published UK: 2 August 2016
Publisher: Doubleday
No of Pages:432
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

12 thoughts on “American Heiress – Jeffrey Toobin #20BooksofSummer

  1. I remember the kidnapping and a bit of what was on TV at the time. TV and newspapers were the media. I was in latter part of high school and so was more involved in what I was doing, but this one sounds like an interesting read. I’ll keep it in mind.


  2. This sounds absolutely fascinating, Cleo. It was a very interesting political and social era, and the Patty Hearst story reflects some of what was going on. I haven’t read this book, I confess, but from what I know, it sounds both authentic and engaging. It’s always interesting to learn the background of events like that.


  3. I loved this book, primarily because it enhanced what I already knew, and had learned, while living through the times. I could relate to Patty’s need to fight back against the Establishment of the times…and do more politically. Their methods were extreme, but having gone through my own radical protests in the early 70s, I felt a connection to her.

    Who she became afterwards, all toned down and muted, made me think of those who have gone through a lobotomy.

    Thanks for sharing! I am fascinated with this story.


  4. I’ve been waiting to hear what you thought of this one! I was fascinated by this story when it was happening but really didn’t understand what it was all about – I was pretty young. The political side of it does appeal to me so since it sounds as if he’s done a good job onto the wishlist it goes! 😀


    1. I honestly think you would enjoy this one. Given my usual dislike of politics in my reading matter, I concluded if everyone managed to give me the facts as the author does in this book my avoidance would be unnecessary. I was quite fascinated with that aspect as much, if not more than the unfolding story of Patsy Hearst.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I read this book earlier in the year and enjoyed it too. I remember this vividly as I was in high school/college in the ’70s and my mother was interested in the case. I believe that Patty became involved in their cause, though initially they had to kidnap her to get her attention. She had social status, money, and an upper class education but still felt adrift and bored, or so I perceived from the way this book was presented. It was fascinating to dig deeper into this convoluted event.


  6. I don’t know all the details of this kidnapping, except that I was a girl living in the northeast US when it happened and I remember the now-famous photo of Patty Hearst and her kidnappers walking with machine guns. I’m sure this was a very good read.


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