American Heiress

The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst
Narrated by: Paul Michael
Length: 15 hrs and 25 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,081 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From New Yorker staff writer and best-selling author of The Nine and The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson, the definitive account of the kidnapping and trial that defined an insane era in American history.  

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 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 bank security cameras capturing “Tania” wielding a machine gun during a robbery; a cast of characters including everyone from Bill Walton to the Black Panthers to Ronald Reagan to F. Lee Bailey; the largest police shoot-out 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 circuslike trial, filled with theatrical courtroom confrontations and a dramatic last-minute reversal, after which the term “Stockholm syndrome” entered the lexicon.       

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 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? 

©2016 Jeffrey Toobin (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Accomplished narrator Paul Michael hits all the right notes in Toobin's detailed account of heiress Patricia Hearst's notorious 1974 kidnapping.... Michael is an excellent choice to deliver the myriad facts and critical analyses of the proceedings...this elegantly written book, paired with Michael's excellent narration, makes for absorbing listening." ( AudioFile)

What listeners say about American Heiress

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  • Overall
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Insightful, Essential

This is an excellent book, with many new insights, and a gripping narrative. I'm familiar with the other books (none of them very recent) about these events, and this one is well worth having too. Well written, and well read. The author puts these events into their historical context very well. He offers a clear, well supported assessment of many controverted points, including whether this was really a case of prolonged Stockholm Syndrome, the quality of Ms Hearst's legal representation, whether she might have been acquitted with different lawyers, how she procured first commutation and then a pardon, and just how guilty she really was of the crimes she was convicted of, and the murder for which she, unlike other SLA members at the Crocker Nat'l Bank, was never prosecuted. One of the best of the year.

6 people found this helpful

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Engaging Story About Horrible People

As a teenager, living in the middle of the country, I followed the story of Patty Hearst with curiosity and sympathy for Patty. As an adult, who has now lived half my life in the Bay Area, I frequently encounter people and legacies from the unsettling 60's and 70's. I selected this book because I thought it would deepen my understanding of the events and the time which have long held my interest. While I know much more about the chronology and details of the SLA I can't say I have a better understanding of what brought the radicals together. Toobin does not psych-analyze the characters and sometimes I wish he would have because, even though I am familiar with the time and setting, I find myself thinking, "WTF were these people thinking?". Ultimately I had no empathy for the unlikable and bumbling members of the SLA . There is of bay area trivia in this nicely paced story and it was worth my time even though Toobin does not uncover any themes which added to my understanding of the events that fascinated me so long ago.

8 people found this helpful

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Great book with a glaring mispronounciation

Normally I'm not bothered by the occasional butchering of a person's or a place's name by a narrator. However, Cinque (Donald DeFreeze) is such a central figure to this story, the endlessly repeated mispronunciation of his nom de guerre got a little infuriating. Those of us who lived in the Bay Area when this truly bizarre story played out (bizarre even for those days) can't forget that Cinque was pronounced sin-CUE ... not SIN-kay. Obviously, this is a mistake effecting listeners and not readers of the book. It is, overall, a petty complaint. The book is great, regardless ...

23 people found this helpful

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Best audio book of the year!

This was an extremely interesting, detailed, suspenseful, insightful recounting of an incredible crazy story. Brought back lots of memories of the time. No fiction can match the fascination of this non-fiction saga. The narration was excellent. I really enjoyed it.

4 people found this helpful

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Read the book Patty wrote. It's true and sensation

I don't believe this book is an honest portrayal of Patty Hearst 's experience. if Jeffrey Toobin was going to describe events contrary to the way Patty Hearst described them then I believe it is incumbent on Jeffrey Toobin to show why his portrayal is the correct one.

1 person found this helpful

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One Of The Best

I found this book absolutely riveting from beginning to end. The author researched the story so thoroughly and with such an observer's eye instead of prejudice that the narrative unfolded with even more emotional impact than if told with attitude.
I only have vague memories of the times, but Mr. Toobin's intensive and up close study of Patty Hearst and the times in which she lived made it all come to life.
No one could have made up this story or the cast of characters, but the author presents it in all its weirdness without apology.
The entire story is fascinating and I especially enjoyed the epilogue about what happened to the people involved.
Paul Michael did a very good job of narrating (except for pronouncing "government" as "gov-ment". Picky, I know).
One of the best books of its kind I have ever read or listened to.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent Listen

If you could sum up American Heiress in three words, what would they be?

Even if you never heard of Patty Hearst it is still a great read!!!

What did you like best about this story?

How the family tried to get her out of serious trouble!

Which scene was your favorite?

The capture!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes!

1 person found this helpful

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Captures the 70s & troubling psychology of Hearst

What did you like best about this story?

About the same age as Patty Hearst, I too came of age in the late 60s and early 70s. This book evoked the turbulence of the times and how righteous causes sometimes attracted and bent fringe characters. The book portrays a fascinating family history as well and gives insight into the psychology of Patty, a rather average person ensnared in one of the century's most explosive crime stories.

1 person found this helpful

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Now I Understand Why My Parents Were So Mad

This is a very well written and read book (although one must chuckle when Mr. Toobin wryly comments on a participants lust for attention) and a story I didn't fully understand. I now appreciate why my parents, and all their friends, we're so incensed when President Clinton included Patti Hearst in his notorious pardon spree. If you want to know the full and true story of Patti Hearst this read will be well worth your time. Only reason I didn't give it 5 stars was the condescending tone of Mr. Toobin when describing certain actors (although, to be perfectly honest, with Mr. Francis Lee Bailey he hit it right on the head), what I perceive as his hypocrisy for nettling some for being attention hounds (just once can there be a legal case Mr. Toobin doesn't give his opinion on?) and the writing style of inferring something but not fully telling you the whole detail until later.

But overall it was was well written, well performed and in all honesty, shows the dishonest chameleon that is Patti Hearst.

9 people found this helpful

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Privilege calling privilege privileged

I almost didn't buy this book, because I thought (correctly, as it happens) I knew everything about Patty Hearst already. I read Hearst's book, I saw both movies, I saw it spoofed on Drunk History, I heard Dave Anthony tell it on the Dollop (twice- SLA episode and SWAT episode), I read Days of Rage, I mean... enough already.

But then, I thought: Hey! I knew a lot about O.J. and I still liked that book, right?

So, I bought America's Heiress, imagining I'd get the same fresh pithy insightful top-notch journalistic prose.

Instead, I got the 400 page wikipedia entry I was afraid I'd get. There is nothing at all new here, and no insight. Okay - Toobin thinks Stockholm syndrome is a joke, and that Patty made bad, armed, criminal decisions uncoerced, He is sick to death of her lame "I got kidnapped, locked in a closet, and raped" excuse. Huh, thats..... nothing. I don't care enough about it to decide if I agree with him or not because it's a non-issue at this point. Where is the relevance?

O.J. was good because Toobin nails the fancy lawyers in the story. Why shouldn't he? They are of his class and his profession. He's writing what he knows.
Not so the scruffy weirdos of the SLA. Toobin gives them all the human depth of a cage full of badgers. It's hard for me not to see a touch of class-blindness there. It also means we're in the wiki-world of here's what happened, step by step. I found it pointless.

So here's my last beef: Toobin concludes by criticizing the fact that Hearst got a commuted sentence and a pardon based on her wealth and position. Well... Does Jeffrey Toobin honestly think his personal success has nothing to do with his privileged background? Because I think having a famous network newscaster mom and news producer dad might have had something to do with the success he now enjoys. Somewhere there's a poor unconnected writer in Nowheresville not getting her 400 page historical rehash published, thanks to people like him.

J'accuse!

Oh - PS: If you don't know anything about the story, go ahead, cause it's a good one.

24 people found this helpful