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The fire in south-central Los Angeles, May 17, 1974, that killed six SLA members, including Camilla Hall.

It’s not too difficult to find information that gives an overview of the Symbionese Liberation Army. My book does not go into great detail on the SLA in general because so many resources already exist. I wanted my focus to be on Camilla Hall, since she often gets lost in general conversations about the SLA.

I still think the best book about the SLA is The Voices of Guns. It’s more than 500 pages, detailed, comprehensive, and has immediacy since it was published in 1977. The authors get some things wrong about Camilla, but otherwise it’s been a useful source for me.

But you’re not going to get through that book quickly. So if you need a faster, yet thorough, read, pick up The Symbionese Liberation Army and Patricia Hearst: Queen of the Revolution by Gregory Cumming and Stephen Sayles. This book suddenly appeared on my radar and I was like, Oh! A new SLA book! It’s based on a dissertation by Cumming, and Sayles is a history professor. There’s not a lot of new information here for those who have studied the SLA, but as an introduction to the topic it’s a fine overview. I found it useful just in the way some things were put into context, and the more simple focus actually helped me get some things straight in my head (i.e. about the relationships the SLA members had with each other right before the group formed, and the murky early days of the SLA in the summer of 1973).

And one of my favorite podcasts, Cults from Parcast, just did a two-part series on the SLA. I really don’t hear the SLA referred to as a cult too often, but in my mind that’s how I view it.

The series was pretty good. Again, nothing really new, but it offered a deep dive into the psychology of Donald DeFreeze, the “field marshal” of the SLA. It’s a podcast, so it’s dramatic, sometimes a little too much drama that skews the story slightly. Yes, DeFreeze was the leader, but they largely ignored the work that Patricia Soltysik and Nancy Ling Perry put into the formation of the SLA. It’s my perception that it was more of a team effort than the show would lead one to believe. But in any case, it’s good and they used my pal Brad Schreiber’s book, Revolution’s End, as source material.


My book, Not the Camilla We Knew: One Woman’s Path from Small-town America to the Symbionese Liberation Army, will be available from the University of Minnesota Press on December 13. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay up-to-date on book news.