American Heiress By Jeffrey Toobin

9780385536714On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst was engaged and living with a man who had previously been her high school teacher. Though the times reflected social change and a rethinking of traditional gender roles, for Hearst, an heiress to the Hearst fortune and Steven Weed life was humdrum and she felt stifled, emotionally unfulfilled and depressed.

And then the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) broke into the apartment, beat up Weed, shot at—and fortunately missed—their neighbors, and finally managed to push Hearst into the trunk of a stolen car. It was an act that shocked and enthralled the country as the SLA made demands for free food for poor people and Randy and CathlerineToobin, Jeffrey Hearst went on television as they tried desperately to free their daughter.

But in an even more bizarre twist, within months of her kidnapping, Hearst declared herself a member of the SLA and willing participated in a bank robbery and shoot out.

“One of the things that impressed me is that Patty was a sheltered woman who learned to handle a machine gun, that there was a part of her that enjoyed this complete departure from her former life,” says Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney and the author of American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst (Doubleday 2016; $289.95) a mesmerizing book about a tumultuous time in our nation’s history. “The SLA had no idea that Patti Hearst was at this cross point in her life—she wanted to get away from her boyfriend and get away from her parents.”

Toobin’s take on Hearst is non-judgmental but he sums up her strengths such as staying calm under horrific conditions as well as her ability to understand the psychology of her captors and bond with them and concludes that in the end she was not a victim.

“The clearest example that she was a voluntary member of the SLA is that at Mel’s, she could have drove away, walked away, but instead she chose to shoot a machine gun into a crowded street to free them,” says Toobin referring to the episode where Bill and Emily Harris were caught shoplifting and were trying to flee a sporting goods store.

There were other times when Heart could have sought help—when she was by herself and being treated for poison oak at a hospital and when she was driving across country with author Jack Scott and his parents who tried to convince Hearst to turn herself in.

“When she was arrested she put her occupation as urban guerilla,” continues Toobin

Though the country was rife with revolutionary groups at the time (bombings were almost an everyday occurrence in San Francisco) like the Weatherman Underground and the Black Panthers, they thought the SLA were insane.

“And that’s saying something,” says Toobin.

So how did the 1960s, a decade of peace and light, turn into the chaotic 70s? Toobin thinks it all began to change when the Vietnam draft ended.

“Many of the idealists drifted away but the embittered remained,” he says.

As for the SLA, who believed that people in prison were all political prisoners and noble, Toobin says that after senselessly murdering an African American superintendent of schools, there was nothing left the to run for their lives. “They never thought through what their ultimate goal was.”

Hearst was ultimately captured and convicted, her lawyer F. Lee Bailey trying to sell the rights to his story while the trial was still going on (Toobin notes that almost everyone involved was trying to snag a book contract), but she never served her full sentence.

“I don’t know what the right sentence was,” he says when asked.  “But I do know that she got an extraordinarily good deal. She is the only person in American history who got a commutation for Jimmy Carter and a pardon from Bill Clinton.”


What: Bestselling author Jeffrey Toobin in conversation with former federal prosecutor, Dan Purdom.

When: Monday, August 15 at 7 p.m.

Where: Meiley-Swallow Hal-North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth  St., Naperville, IL

Cost: $32

FYI: (630) 355-2665






The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Obsessive himself, Graham Moore, who won an Oscar for his screenplay The Imitation Game, immersed himself in 19th century Manhattan
THE LAST DAYS OF NIGHTto write The Last Days of Night (Random House 2016; $28), his historic tale about the lawsuit between two other obsessive and driven people–Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse–over who invented the lightbulb. Though it may seem like a minor question, the court’s decision would determine which of these powerhouses held the right to light up America and earn billions while doing so. It takes us to the time when darkness prevailed and people viewed Edison as “The Wizard” because of the magic of electricity.

“I am so paranoid that there’s something I missed,” says Moore, explaining why he spent a year and a half digging deep in archives, scientific and engineering journals of the time. It took another four years or so to write and even then Moore would often stop to peruse more census data or old newspapers. His book centers on 26-year-old Paul Cravath, a recent graduate of Columbia Law School who finds himself handling the lawsuit on behalf of Westinghouse.

Moore, a Chicago native and the New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian, sees some parallels between Cravath and himself.

Graham Moore © Matt Sayles“We were both the same age. When I started this book, I was just beginning my career as a writer; Paul was just starting his career, we were both trying to hold our own and not let them know we were afraid,” he says, adding that he’s a big admirer of the writing of Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City.

Though his book isn’t due to be released until the 16th, Moore is already working on the film adaptation. The movie stars one of Moore’s favorite actors, Eddie Redmayne.

“I’m very passionate about making popular art—films and books,” he says. “My great dream about this book is that it starts conversations—that it connects. I want to write fiction that invites people in.”


What:  Oscar winner Graham Moore book signing

When: Thursday, August 8 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736 N Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665;






Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago


O'Brien, Gillian-4- credit Alistair DanielAlmost 12,000 people streamed into the First Cavalry Armory on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on May 25, 1889 to view the coffin of Dr. P.H. Cronin, an Irish physician and political activist who had been savagely murdered.

“It was one of the first ‘sensational’ murders covered by the Chicago press and far beyond,” says Gillian O’Brien, author of Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2015; $17). “It wasn’t just the newspapers that were fascinated – there were Dime Novels written about the crime, waxwork reproductions were made of the body, the suspects and the horse that took the doctor to the scene of his murder was put on show at a Dime Museum. The house where he was killed was opened to the public for a fee.”

For O’Brien, a historian and Reader in Modern Irish History at Liverpool John Moores University, it wasn’t just the luridness of the crime that caught her interest but that Cronin, involved in a secret Irish American republican society, was murdered because he fell out with the leadership of the organization called Clan na Gael. She first learned about the murder while Blood Runs Greenresearching at the Newberry Library in Chicago and after running across numerous references to the investigation and trial she searched for a book about Cronin but learned that little had been written since shortly after the trial.

“The repercussions of the murder on the Irish in Chicago and the Irish in America more broadly were very significant,” she says explaining her reason for undertaking extensive research to and writing the book. “There was a backlash against the Irish with many arguing that a hyphenated identity was problematic. There was a feeling that the Irish could never be truly American because of their residual loyalty to Ireland. The fact that an Irish political murder took place on American soil was also a cause for great concern. It was the combination of the sensational crime and the impact of it on Irish America and on Irish republicanism that made it a very compelling story for me.”


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