Steal This Book

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How do you read a book that you can’t buy in bookstores or find in libraries… because people keep stealing them since the title is Steal This Book? Even used copies are selling for double the retail list price. By reading a ripped off copy on the internet, of course. 😉

Written by activist Abbie Hoffman in 1970, Steal This Book is basically a counter-culture guidebook to that era, and is self-described as a “manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” It promotes its own twisted view of morality, which is that it is okay to steal from everyone from the government to business owners like grocery stores, but not other Yippie activists. The “Survive!” section is basically a “How to see the US on zero dollars a day” travel book.

Whether the ways it describes to rip-off shit are legal or illegal is irrelevant. The dictionary of law is written by the bosses of order. Our moral dictionary says no heisting from each other. To steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire is equally immoral.

The topics covered are very wide-ranging, although many are now out-dated. I’ll “steal” the description at Wikipedia:

The book 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.

Most people will probably be offended by a lot of the content, but I basically viewed it as a mix of history, entertainment, and knowledge. There are even congee recipes from National Liberation Front fighters. I’m also the type of guy who likes to know how all the scams work. Samples:

Free postage: “When mailing to the same city, address the envelope or package to yourself and put the name of the person you are sending it to where the return address generally goes. Mail it without postage and it will be “returned” to the sender.”

Free food: “In restaurants where you pay at the door just before leaving, there are a number of free-loading tricks that can be utilized. After you’ve eaten a full meal and gotten the check, go into the restroom. When you come out go to the counter or another section of the restaurant and order coffee and pie. Now you have two bills. Simply pay the cheaper one when you leave the place.”

Panhandling: “A good prop is a charity canister. You can get them by going to the offices of a mainstream charity and signing up as a collector. Don’t feel bad about ripping them off. Charities are the biggest swindle around. 80% or more of the funds raised by honky charities go to the organization itself. New fancy cars for the Red Cross, inflated salaries for the executives of the Cancer Fund, tax write-offs for Jerry Lewis. You get the picture.”

Never even thought about this: You can get $150 to $600 in advance by willing your body to a University medical school. They have you sign a lot of papers and put a tattoo on your foot. You can get the tattoo removed and sell your body to the folks across the street.

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  1. lol

  2. Hilarious.

  3. I once had a copy of this book. I had a brick and mortar bookstore order it for me.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have it anymore…as I presume somebody stole it from me.

    The book also had some sweet old school recycling methods…like how to make sandals out of used tires. I still want to do that one.

    It also has a now outdated explanation of what cheap foreign coins and hardware washers will work as US coins in particular types of coin operated machines.

  4. You lost a lot of credibility with me by posting this garbage.

  5. This is about as sleazy as they come.

  6. Gretchen says

    Great stuff! Very funny.

  7. It certainly is inflammatory. But the really ironic thing was that I think this book ended up on the NY Times bestseller list.

    “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.”

  8. Cmon now Paul… Maybe its not for everyone but you have to admit those ideas are cleaver although damaging to society. Round of applause from me for thinking outside the box.

  9. 00smoothie says

    OK, so this is amusing in an Abbie-Hoffman-is-a-complete-idiot kind of way. Even if you accept that it is OK to “steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire”–and I don’t–this guy is still a complete nut job.

    For example, the first chapter of this book advises you to go to “large take-out stand” and claim that you ordered 15 hamburgers a little while before and that you were shorted by one or two, the theory being that they will give you the “replacements” for free.

    Later in the same section, he advises how one can rip off butchers by claiming the the free meat scraps are “‘for my dog'”.

    In what way can the corner butcher the local snack stand be considered “pillars of Pig Empire”?

    This book seems to be little more than the rantings of a deluded man trying to justify his own criminal activities, or a guide for the shiftless who want to learn how to mooch off the hard-working.

  10. bar


  11. Wow, I just started reading it. What a great find. Very interesting read so far. Thanks, Jonathan!

  12. I don’t find it the least bit funny. I believe he was deadly serious when he wrote the book and there are still people out there who think this way.

  13. I love the eclectic topics you discuss, which is why I keep reading your site. Keep up the great work!

  14. Haha, I love it! This is so funny, I’d love to have this sitting on my shelf. I wonder if anyone would steal it from me. 🙂 And for those offended I’d have to say entertainment is not the same as endorsement. I wonder how much money this activist made on sales.

  15. This post is more proof that your blog is going downhill. Lately, days go by between good posts. You have been posting fillers like this in the meantime so that traffic to the site doesn’t plummet.

  16. Why would you post positive comments about a book that teaches how to break the law? I can’t follow you on this one.

  17. i think this stuff is interesting. i’ve heard about this book before, but never took the time to look into it. good post.

  18. NoMoreWork says

    Everybody lighten up. You can’t talk about asset allocation in IRAs for 365 days a year. Well, at least I can’t. This blog in it’s most basic form is entertainment. This story is entertaining and as Jonathon points out deals with some “personal finance” issues, albeit illegally. Still funny tho. I got a kick out of the post. Now tell me the value of TIPS as hedge in my childs 529 again…

    Calmer than you are.

  19. Of course this post would generate its share of shrill commentary.

  20. For all you folks that think this is a great article… maybe you would also enjoy a posting about how to make money on kiddie porn, selling drugs, prostitution, etc…? I don’t get it.

  21. Worst post ever… extracting entretenmaint from such stupid ideas is a form of endorsement. Have you heard the one that goes “bad publicity is better than NO publicity”?

    Shame on the writer on the book, shame on Jonathan for posting this on his blog, shame on anyone who acts according to the ideas on the book, and shame on all of us for letting it happen.

  22. This is a great book with alot of interesting out of the box ideas. Even if you don’t agree with the concepts in this book, its worth reading because it will teach you new ways of thinking that can be used for things that are aren’t immoral or wrong.

  23. Jon,
    Posting this article was a cheap shot. I have been a fan of your blog because of both quality and integrity. This displays neither. Abbie Hoffman was just another bigot. The only difference was that his bigotry didn’t follow the usual black vs. white, Serb vs. Croatian, Jew vs. Arab, etc. lines. It just promoted a different flavor of an us being better than them mentality. History is filled with the tragedies that result when any of us start thinking we’re better than anyone else. We are all different, yes, but not better, so we have no excuse to treat anyone with the disdain or disrespect he shows for the establishment. I suggest you delete the entire post and chalk it up as a learning experience.

  24. @ Rick

    The difference is that a black person can’t become white, a Serbian person can’t become a Croatian, and a Jewish person can’t become an Arab person.

    But in Hoffman’s case, all you need to do is change your opinions and actions.

  25. My friend put it well. “This book was so wrong I couldn’t stop reading it.”

    Starting a discussion is hardly the same as endorsement. If people can’t read something and make up their own minds, then we’re all in deep poo. I try to read a variety of books, and I found the book both offensive and interesting, similar to the movie Fight Club. Of course I understand that some people are just disgusted.

  26. @ Jake
    You missed my point. I wasn’t talking about someone becoming someone or something else. I was talking about respecting someone not of your group or class. Hoffman claimed that it was ok to steal from others but not from a fellow yippee. By definition it is a form of bigotry.

  27. JoetheBankgeek says

    Suppose I wrote a book called How To Ripoff Banks and the stuff in it really worked? Would that be a good thing to do? As for Hoffman he did more harm than good, just my opinion. Yes, his book is entertaining. There’s no harm in reading it.

  28. Yep, disgusted is the word. Jonathan, do you realize that this sort of activity “costs us all” ? (just like shoplifting and insurance fraud). “Offensive” trumps “interesting”.

  29. My Health Insurance Company lists their address on both the to: and from: parts of their return envelopes… I suppose if you forget a stamp they still get their payment!

    Interesting post… people get too worked up over these things. Truth is the best way to avoid being scammed by people is to learn about the scams. The more this information gets disseminated, the more aware the public is and the less likely it is to work.

  30. Sheesh.. chill out people. This was written tongue-in-cheek.

  31. Steal a dollar, you’re a criminal. Steal a billion, you’re a capitalist – who will then be paid two billion by the government because you’re so damn important.

  32. Thanks for reminding me about this gem of a book. I read it numerous times when it first came out, and felt guilty for actually paying for it.

    Abbie Hoffman (RIP) would love all these comments. Not too many 40-year-old manifestos still produce such a range of emotions.

  33. This book is far out. In fact it’s so far out that the information is seriously dated. Much of it is no longer useful. But the blog is about money and surviving tough economic times is of the essence right now, so in that sense it’s amusing.

  34. Do any of you people who are so offended by this post realize that most people that would have read this book and been in the ‘scene’ at the time have been some of the biggest movers of capitalism? 95% of the people who would have read this book are driving around in their volvo’s now and complaining about the market. Some of you get your feathers ruffled way too easily. So Jonathan’s right to post (serious or not) whatever he chooses on HIS blog is completely overtaken because someone may pick up a Hoffman book? Get real and stop with the whole request for it to be deleted.

  35. Wait – you can get money now for willing your body to a medical school?

    $600 in 1970 is how much now?

  36. I had a copy of this book back in the 70’s. It’s just a relic from a bygone era, like old copies of “Rolling Stone”. I didn’t agree with everything in it then, and I still don’t, but it’s a funny and interesting bit of history. The only thing described in this book that I actually tried to do was make my own yogurt and grow my own pot. The yogurt worked out better by far.

    I’m sure Abbie would be happy to know you can now get it for free on the internet.

  37. Duck, Jonathan.

    It seems some who read your blog can’t handle a discussion without feeling threatened or insulted. Grow up, folks, get out of your pods on occasion and see the world. Knowledge, analysis and discussion – even of bad ideas – can be fun, informative and even lead to good ideas. Most of us know that skipping a bill at a restaurant is legally and morally wrong – if simply reading about it threatens or enrages you, it might be time for some self-reflection.

  38. I worked in a large independent bookstore for five years in the early-mid ’90s where I was the inventory manager.

    Oddly enough, nobody ever took “Steal This Book”. I checked every few weeks on principle.

    Frankly I thought it was a little weird that nobody ever took it.

  39. A little objection seems to have infuriated those who like this stuff. Now who needs to chill out?

  40. Warren..

    I little objection? You were comparing it to child pornography. I think that is a huge leap to make from a book expression someones ideas to the complete destruction and abuse of a child. What do you have a big objection to if child pornography is only a little objectionable?

  41. LOL. Forget what people say Jonathan….I think this is hilarious. 😀

  42. Thank you Jonathan for posting this – its educational to learn that such a book is out there that advocates such outrageous ideas. I have not read the book yet. Its up to me to decide whether I even want to read this book or not. So it is for everyone else.

    Apparently most of the ideas go much against accepted sense of morality and integrity. Still its up to the reader to act on the advises or not. Looks like some of your readers are not yet sure of their reaction in face of unusual readings.

    What I find disagreeable is them trying to stomp out your degree of freedom for choosing what to write about.

  43. First off, I have posted here a handful of times and have noticed that there is another Eric here (he just posted). So I will give him the honor of being the “original” one. Jonathan, even though you say you aren’t it seems like you are endorsing the book. I don’t see anywhere in the original post that you are disgusted with many of these ideas (you just said “most people will probably be offended”). I think you put a lot of good content on the site but honestly I agree with Paul (and others) that this post is kind of disappointing. This is similar to when a consumerist website advised people to pirate software and sneak in food in their dirty socks to a ballgame to save money. Anyway, the only funny part of this post was the irony that the author (whoever he is) is losing money because his book has been ripped onto that site.

  44. JoetheBankgeek says

    No doubt the people who nearly killed the financial system and created the depression we’re in read the book for “entertainment purposes” of course. But don’t me wrong, it’s okay to read it.

  45. I had no idea so many of you were left wing thieves.

    Learn something every day.

  46. “Left wing thieves…” Hmm, would that make Bernard Madoff a right wing thief? He was very entrepreneurial about it.

  47. Kind of low to even print this…normally you have pretty nice suggestions and ideas. To put this on your page and pass it off as something that should be considered really hurts your reputation.

  48. JoetheBankgeek says

    Madoff was a conservative? That’s the first I’ve heard of it. But really, is there a difference between a liberal financial criminal and a conservative one? How does that work? If you’re a conservative one you only rip off other conservatives? What?

  49. it’s an interesting book and is notable from a historical perspective. that hoffman was “wrong” or a hipocrite is kind of immaterial. it’s a fun book, i’ve owned multiple copies over the years, and i didn’t pay for a single one. (interesting sidebar, no anti theft devices placed inside this book at Barnes and Noble, but most of Orwell, Henry Miller, Pahlanuik, and Sarte have anti-theft devices inside…)

  50. JoetheBankgeek says

    So Hoffman wanted people to steal the book? He didn’t turn down any royalty checks.

  51. “Left wing thieves…” Hmm, would that make Bernard Madoff a right wing thief? He was very entrepreneurial about it.

    You miss the point. Hoffman’s justification for his thievery is steeped in his ideology.

    Sticking it to “The System” to justify stealing from his fellow man. That’s what makes his supporters left wing thieves as opposed to ordinary ones.

    Frankly, I find the person who says, “I stole because I wanted it,” to be more honorable than one who claims it as virtue.

  52. Left wing or right wing, I guess no one has a sense of humor.

  53. JoetheBankgeek says

    I dunno, it’s kind of hard to laugh when you see so much of your country going down the tubes.

  54. Lackadaisical says

    Astonishing, I just read a tiny fraction from this book, and the part I did read lead me to the conclusion that it’s this kind of book that fuels the hedonistic and unfair nature of people. It refines methods to commit crimes and steal. The purpose of this book is outlandish, and merely proliferates the attitudes of those who feel that they don’t have to work and only need to leech off of the success of others so they themselves don’t have the obligation to have their own successes. On the other hand, if this is meant to be a satire, then I feel entirely different about the whole thing.

    Oddly enough, as much as I protest the message of this book, I felt a strange urge to attempt some of these methods described.

  55. Lackadaisical says

    Sorry for double posting, but possibly if I had read more, I could have grasped more of a message that didn’t seem so ludicrous as the one that I did see.

  56. The author sound like a Democrat.

  57. “The author sound like a Democrat.”

    The typer be sound is like of Republican, cuz he can’t form good words group.

  58. “So Hoffman wanted people to steal the book? He didn’t turn down any royalty checks.”
    Yea, Hoffman was just as much of a hypocrite as any corporate right-wing thief. In fact, he could be seen as worse because he hid behind a guise of being some kind of ‘activist.’
    I think the post was supposed to mostly be a joke, but the book itself wasn’t originally. Scum like Abbie Hoffman really do just want to watch the world burn.
    It does seem a little out of character for this blog.. kinda funny tho.

  59. Smart man. says

    I see an awful lot of piggies posting..

    Then again, this IS a money blog.

    Oh and Neil, Abbie died as poor as he lived. His family had to take donations just to get him a casket. Abbie Hoffman was a hero of his time. He believed that all were equal, and that all forms of business for personal gain was wrong. That’s why yippies stole, because they HAD no money, so they could give none. In an ideal society, those with money (READ: most business owners, aka pigs)would give to those without money (yippies, aka poor broke teenagers). Everyone could share the worth in the long run.

    But oh, no time for political philosophy. Let’s just take as much money as we can, and never give back. Let’s throw more money in the pile! Great idea! It’ll never fall back down to the bottom, but who cares? We’ll be rich forever!

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