It was a story so bizarre it defied belief: in April 1974, twenty-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst robbed a San Francisco bank in the company of members of the Symbionese Liberation Army—who had kidnapped her a mere nine weeks earlier. But the robbery—and the spectacular 1976 trial that ended with Hearst’s criminal conviction—seemed oddly appropriate to the troubled mood of the nation, an instant exemplar of a turbulent era.
With Patty’s Got a Gun, the first substantial reconsideration of Patty Hearst’s story in more than twenty-five years, William Graebner vividly re-creates the atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration of mid-1970s America. Drawing on copious media accounts of the robbery and trial—as well as cultural artifacts from glam rock to Invasion of the Body Snatchers—Graebner paints a compelling portrait of a nation confused and frightened by the upheavals of 1960s liberalism and beginning to tip over into what would become Reagan-era conservatism, with its invocations of individual responsibility and the heroic. Trapped in the middle of that shift, the affectless, zombielike, “brainwashed” Patty Hearst was a ready-made symbol of all that seemed to have gone wrong with the sixties—the inevitable result, some said, of rampant permissiveness, feckless elitism, the loss of moral clarity, and feminism run amok.
By offering a fresh look at Patty Hearst and her trial—for the first time free from the agendas of the day, yet set fully in their cultural context—Patty’s Got a Gun delivers a nuanced portrait of both an unforgettable moment and an entire era, one whose repercussions continue to be felt today.
In this work, Graebner (The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s ) reconsiders the kidnapping and trial of heiress Patricia Hearst in the context of psychiatry, media, politics, and popular culture in the 1970s. The book is divided into two parts: the first half is a detailed recitation of the kidnapping of Hearst by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, or SLA (an American self-styled urban guerrilla warfare group active in the 1970s); the crimes committed by her; and her trial and conviction. In the second part, titled "Reading Patty Hearst," the author concedes that no one knows why Hearst joined her SLA captors. He cites society's dismay with the chaos of the Nixon administration, the decline of the family, and the survival culture of the day. Patty's Got a Gun is a well-written, sophisticated speculation of why Hearst was convicted both by the jury and in the court of public opinion at the onset of the Reagan era. Readers looking for a livelier, more personal account should read Shana Alexander's Anyone's Daughter: The Times and Trials of Patty Hearst . For specialized collections.-Harry Charles, Attorney at Law, St. Louis, MO