Toobin's latest effort tackles the circus that was the Patty Hearst kidnapping of the mid-1970's. He knocked this one out of the ballpark!
Many do not remember the early to mid 1970's, but it was a time of high drama for the United States. Nixon, the oil embargo, high inflation, Watergate. While we fret over today's latest round of terrorists, people forget about the bombings that occurred almost daily then. 1972 had 1,962 actual and attempted bombings. 1973, 1,955 bombings. 1974, 2,044 bombings. Dozens of people were killed. Groups like the Weathermen, the Death Angels, the Black Panthers, and the Nation of Islam spread their terror. While today we worry about the Black Lives Matter group, back then the Death Angels (Zebra killers) had a campaign to kill white people simply because they were white.
Following in these anarchist groups footsteps, a ragtag group of incompetent dunderheads formed and called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Never more than a handful strong, they gained notoriety by kidnapping the daughter of a famous newspaper magnate, Patricia Hearst.
And thus begins Toobin's book. He covers in depth Hearst's actual kidnapping, her imprisonment, her conversion to becoming a member of the SLA, the crimes she committed while with the SLA (and they were many), her time as a fugitive, her capture, and finally, her trial. The trial was, at that time, "the trial of the century". Americans were introduced to terms such as brainwashing, and the Stockholm Syndrome.
Toobin does his best not to divulge his opinion on the culpability of Hearst in her crimes, instead he provides a balanced set of facts and lets the reader make up their own mind. It is fascinating reading.
One thing that really stood out to me in the story was how many famous or soon-to-be famous people were involved in the Hearst saga. Judge Lance Ito (of future OJ Simpson infamy), Sara Jane Moore (later involved in an assassination attempt on President Ford), Ronald Reagan, the Mary Tyler Moore TV show, Kathy Soliah (fugitive for over 20 years before capture and tabloid infamy), the Nation of Islam, the Weather Underground, Bill Walton (the basketball player), Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (also attempted assassin of President Ford), F. Lee Bailey (infamous attorney of the era), the Reverend Jim Jones (of the Guyana massacre), Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, ESPN, and a host of others that I am forgetting. Toobin weaves all these people seamlessly into his book.
I have my own opinions on the Hearst debacle, and I won't share them with the readers of this review to avoid tainting their own decision. Instead, I will end my review with one of the last lines in Toobin's book, "rarely have the benefits of wealth, power, and renown been as clear as they were in the aftermath of Patricia's conviction". You would think we would learn, but history seems to be destined to repeat itself over and over again.
While at times a bit ponderous, this book tells a great story that we should all remember. Maybe then we won't repeat our blunders over and over again!