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Patty's Got a Gun: Patricia Hearst in 1970s Americaby William Graebner
"The story of the hostage who comes by turns to identify with the captor is one of the oldest ever told. Tales of unsullied Puritan maidens kidnapped by Indians only to end up "going native" were staples of early American literature. The Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which describes the ordeal of a minister's wife held for eleven weeks by Narragansett Indians during King Philip's War in 1676, was among the first such narratives, and it was enormously popular when it was published in Boston in 1682. Three hundred years later, a similar story seized the West's imagination..." Rick Perlstein, The Nation (read the entire Nation review)
Synopses & Reviews
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 an era traumatized by defeat in Vietnam, betrayal in Washington, stagflation, and shockingly violent crimes, the saga of Patty Hearst — kidnapped heiress turned carbine-toting bankrobber — was perhaps the most shocking tale of all. William Graebner's rich retelling uses Hearst's story to probe one of the central preoccupations of the Seventies: the nature of personal identity. What happened to Hearst fascinated, and continues to fascinate, because it raised the question of what any of us might become in the face of extraordinary circumstances." Thomas Hine, author The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (on a Shag Rug) in the Seventies
"William Graebner's brilliant analysis of America's struggles over the meaning of Patty Hearst gives us not only new perspectives on the 1970s, on Americans' fundamental understandings of their world in a bicentennial year that offered little to celebrate, but also on the longing for heroism and the desire for belief in free will that Graebner believes structured the rise of Reagan-era conservatism. This is a masterful work of cultural history." Beth Bailey, author of From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America
"In that anxious interval between the twilight of the Sixties and the dawn of Ronald Reagan's 'Morning in America' no story made the nation as uneasy as the crazy and ambiguous ordeal of Patty Hearst. William Graebner sheds new light on that most troubling story, and thereby helps us understand two nations: the terrified America that watched it all unfold, and the more assured and brutal place that it would soon become." Mark Crispin Miller, author of The Bush Dyslexicon
"What makes the book worth reading is not so much the first half, a compelling enough account of Ms. Hearsts kidnapping and subsequent time in the headlines, as the second half: an attempt to put the Hearst affair in the context of an America struggling to emerge from the Vietnam quagmire and the ignominy of Watergate." Economist
"[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." Library Journal
"[A] page-turning primer on the saga, drawing on previous scholarship, court transcripts and other documents to track Hearst's captivity, radicalization, trial and conviction." Newsday
About the Author
William Graebner is the author of many books, including The Age of Doubt: American Thought and Culture in the 1940s and Coming of Age in Buffalo: Youth and Authority in the Postwar Era.
Table of Contents
List of Figures
The Missing Year
Reading Patty Hearst
The Fragile Self
The Emerging Conservative Consensus
What Our Readers Are Saying
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