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American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

A good history book does two things: teaches the reader something new about history and engages the reader in the historical narrative. Jeffrey Toobin's bestselling book American Heiress does both, and then some.... He tells the story of the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst (of the famous Hearst family) and her subsequent (brainwashing?) into the group that kidnapped her. As with every historian, Toobin can not tell exactly what happened. What he can do is reconcile the various accounts into a compelling guess at the historical events. And he does a remarkably good job at trying to unravel what actually happened to Patricia Hearst while she was kidnapped, and whether or not she became a willing participant (or was coerced, as she later tried to argue). I do wonder, however, how the story would have been told differently if a woman wrote it. Especially with regard to the questions of whether Patricia was raped by her comrades, or whether she consented: I just feel a woman would be better suited to write about this.

As the NYT Book review writes - and I agree with - "Toobin’s take on Hearst’s state of mind is credible because he doesn’t pretend clarity where there is none." He is very aware of the gaps in the historical record, and does his best to fill them. Patricia emerges from the pages as a victim, a scared young woman, and a woman rebelling against her family. I hit a point about three quarters of the way through the book where I just could not put it down: I needed to know what happened. Since I had only a vague knowledge of what the kidnapping was, I truly was nervous about what the ending would be. Would she be arrested? Would she be found guilty? WAS SHE GUILTY?! Of course, questions lingered after I finished reading, but they only made me want to read more. Overall, American Heiress did a fantastic job of authentically telling a history story. Rating: ★★★★★

 

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