The Sporadic Beaver

Loot This Book

August 15, 2011

Tags: Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book, riots, The New York Times

I read Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book in high school. Hoffman, co-founder of the Yippies, proclaimed that it was immoral to not steal from the American Empire, and he explained how to get pretty much everything for free (or close to it). I found the book so inspiring that I embarked on an extended career of using subway slugs, making free long-distance phone calls, and acquiring free record albums and books through the mail. My life of liberating things from the "pigs" lasted through graduate school, and the only lesson, an arrest for subway slug use, taught me was to be more cautious.

I mention Hoffman’s book now because of a letter I read in The New York Times the other day describing the rioting and looting at a shopping mall in England. “Rampaging mobs had broken into virtually every shop there, stealing everything from designer clothing to electronics,” wrote Arnold Grossman of Denver, Colorado, though he failed to identify the city in which this took place. “One store stood alone, however, its windows intact and its goods untouched.”

It was a bookstore.

How utterly dispiriting that British rioters, who also looted such things as bottled water and trash cans, didn’t find it worth their while to steal books. I suppose they could have preferred reading e-books on Amazon’s Kindle, but I somehow doubt it.

More likely, book lovers tend to be shoplifters rather than looters, and shoplifting books is, indeed, a serious problem in the US and UK. Publisher’s Weekly, in fact, has compiled a list of the top five most stolen books in the US: anything by Charles Bukowski, anything by William Burroughs, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, and anything by Martin Amis.

And the Guardian has compiled a list of the most stolen books in the UK: London A-Z, Lonely Planet Europe, The Guv’nor by Lenny McLean, Tintin and Asterix, and Harry Potter by JK Rowling.

Number six on this list, incidentally, is Steal This Book. So perhaps there is some hope for the UK after all.