Steal This Book  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Steal This Book is a book written by Abbie Hoffman. Written in 1970 and published in 1971, the book exemplified the counterculture of the sixties. The book sold more than a quarter of a million copies between April and November 1971; it is unknown how many more copies were stolen.

The book, in the style of the counterculture, mainly focused on ways to fight the government, and against corporations in any way possible.

It includes advice on such topics as growing marijuana, starting a pirate radio station, living in a commune, stealing food, shoplifting, stealing credit cards, preparing a legal defense, making pipe bombs, and obtaining a free buffalo from the U.S. Department of the Interior. It discusses various tactics of fighting as well as giving a detailed list of affordable and easy ways to find weapons and armor that can be used in the event of a confrontation with law enforcement. The book advocates rebelling against authority in all forms, governmental and corporate.

The book is written in the form of a guide to the youth. Hoffman, a political and social activist himself, used many of his own activities as the inspiration for some of his advice in Steal This Book.



The main author of the book, Abbie Hoffman, was one of the most influential and recognizable American activists of the late-1960s and early-1970s, gaining fame with his leadership in anti-Vietnam War protests. Aside from Hoffman, several people were involved in the compilation of Steal This Book including Izak Haber who is listed as "co-conspirator" and Bert Cohen who is listed as "accessory after the fact" on the cover. Tom Forcade was not credited in the book, but Hoffman later admitted that he had taken part in some of the editing before being replaced by Bert Cohen. Steal This Book was written in the climate of the counter-culture, in which opposition to tradition and government was rampant, and experimentation with new forms of living was encouraged. Although the book was published in the seventies, it is truly a relic of the sixties. When the book was published, it took hold among the new left, especially among students on college campuses, such as Brandeis University, where Hoffman had been a student.


Steal This Book is divided into three sections, "Survive!", "Fight!" and "Liberate!". Each section has several sub-chapters. As the book has aged, the specific details of the various techniques and advice Hoffman gives have become largely obsolete for technological or regulatory reasons, but the book iconically reflects the hippie zeitgeist.

"Survive!" describes techniques of obtaining "free" things through legal and extra-legal means to survive "on the run." It includes chapters on how to acquire food, clothing, furniture, transportation, land, housing, education, medical care, communication, entertainment, money, dope, and other assorted items and services. Suggestions include the use of slugs, taking advantage of government and church hand-outs, and a variety of shoplifting techniques.

The section "Fight!" includes chapters on starting an underground press, guerrilla radio, guerrilla television, what to bring to a demonstration that’s expected to be violent, how to make an assortment of home-made bombs, first aid for street fighters, legal advice, how to seek political asylum, guerrilla warfare, gun laws, and identification papers. This section also includes advice on such topics as growing cannabis, living in a commune, and obtaining a free buffalo from the Department of the Interior.

The third section is "Liberate!", and focuses on local solutions in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The book also includes an appendix that lists "approved" organizations and other books worth stealing.

The "Pig Empire"

In the book, Hoffman referred to America as the "Pig Empire" and stated that it was not immoral to steal from it: In fact, Hoffman wrote, it was immoral not to do so. The term was picked up by the Yippies, and was widely used by what became known as the "Woodstock Nation".

Cultural response

Steal This Book was rejected by at least thirty publishers before it was able to get into print: An editor at Random House publishing commented that he would not even let his own child read it. Hoffman was eventually forced to make a publishing company of his own, Pirate Editions, in order to sell the book, with Grove Press as the distributor. The book initially received no reviews and was not advertised in any of the major newspapers.

Once it got into print, Steal This Book had widespread readership and became a bestseller mainly through word of mouth. News sources did not want to or were afraid to advertise the book, and many regional distributors and bookstores were unwilling to carry the book, citing its subversive nature and the literal encouragement of theft the title provided.

On the success of the book, Hoffman was quoted as saying, "It's embarrassing when you try to overthrow the government and you wind up on the Best Seller's List." He would eventually write several other books, including Steal This Urine Test: Fighting Drug Hysteria in America, Revolution For the Hell of It, and The Autobiography of Abbie Hoffman.

Hoffman would not respond to accusations that he had plagiarized the book, as claimed in an article by Izak Haber in Rolling Stone magazine (No. 92, 10 September 1971), entitled "How Abbie Hoffman Won My Heart and Stole Steal This Book"; Haber is acknowledged in the book as having done a great deal of the research.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Steal This Book" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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