The Patty Hearst kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army was definitely one of the most bizarre events of the 1970s. Who was the SLA? Why did they kidnap Hearst? If I were just digging into the Patty Hearst and the SLA saga, I’d start with these three books:
The Voices of Guns by Vin McLellan and Paul Avery. The subtitle calls this book “definitive” and I agree 100 percent. This was my go-to for background information when I was writing my book (Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman’s Life from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army, forthcoming Fall 2022). Voices of Guns was written in 1977, so the information is fresh.
Patty Hearst: Her Own Story (also titled Every Secret Thing) by Patty Hearst. This is the only thing you’ll read by Patty Hearst. She is famously quiet about her life in the SLA. There’s still a debate on whether Hearst voluntarily stayed with the SLA or was held hostage. At her 1976 trial, the jury found her culpable of crimes she committed while in the SLA. So of course in this book she refutes that notion. It’s not an unbiased account by any means. She provides a lot of great information of what life was like in the SLA while they were on the run in the months after her kidnapping.
American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin is an update to the Patty Hearst story, published in 2016. Toobin applies his legal lens to the tale. In my opinion, he doesn’t really reveal anything new, but it’s a readable book and probably easier to find than Voices of Guns.
Reading isn’t your thing but you love watching TV? All right, check out these two documentaries:
You can’t go wrong with a PBS documentary. This one is from 2005.
This CNN 6-part series was based off Toobin’s book and aired in 2018. The best part were the interviews of people who hardly ever talk about the SLA: Hearst’s fiancé at the time, Steven Weed, and Bill Harris, a member of the SLA who was on the run with Hearst for nearly 18 months.
If you read or watch one of these recommendations, let me know what you think.