Abbie Hoffman Peddles "Steal This Book"
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. June 17, 1971, Vol. XVI, No. 24
Steal This Story By Alan Weitz
A new street vendor was hawking his wares on the sidewalks of New York last week. Abbie Hoffman was peddling "Steal This Book," his latest literary effort, in front of Doubleday Books' Fifth Avenue and 57th Street branch. The site of the venture had significance in that Doubleday, along with 29 other publishing houses and many major book stores, refused to publish and will not sell the book. This counter counter-culture effort has been compounded by the refusal of 13 newspapers, including the New York Times, and all radio stations to accept advertisements for it. All the parties note the book's advocacy of illegal acts in explaining their desire to have nothing to do with it.
"Steal This Book" is billed as "a handbook for survival and warfare for the citizens of Woodstock Nation." It tells how to eat for nothing at restaurants, shoplift food and clothes, hitch, bum rides on trains and airplanes, set up pirate radio and tv stations, get on unemployment, and obtain thousands of free goods and services. In addition, there are chapters on how to act at demonstrations, trash, make bombs, and shoot firearms, and what to do when busted for demonstrating, trashing, bombing, and shooting.
"There's a special section on how to make it in New York," yelled Abbie to the gathering crowd at Doubleday, a cartonful of books at his feet. "It's called Fuck New York."
"What is it?" asked a young straight in a suit, tie, and crewcut. It was not clear whether he was inquiring about Abbie or the book. Not to be outdone, Abbie flipped the pages and held up the chapter with instructions for getting on welfare. The straight walked away muttering while an elderly man yelling "nigger lover" ran for the nearest cop.
Abbie hadn't heard this last remark, though, as more and more books were being bought and thrust in his hands for autographs. "Doubleday won't sell this book cause it tells you how to screw the system," he said. And then throwing in a sales pitch: "You know I got arrested in Washington during the Mayday demonstration. Well, if I had read this book before going to Washington I wouldn't have gotten caught."
"Are you out on bail now?" someone asked.
"I've been out on bail for the past 10 years."
"Abbie, I saw you in Oklahoma."
"I got five years for that speech."
"Yeah, it was outasight."
A bus stopped in front of the crowd and Abbie popped his head in an open window and yelled to a very shocked woman, "Wanna buy a book? Only $2. Tells you how to get on buses for free. For you -- $1. No? Okay, I'll give you a dollar to take it." The lady shifted nervously, looked the other way, and sighed in relief when the bus pulled away.
"Listen, Abbie," came another voice from the crowd, "I stole your book in Chicago and got busted for it."
"Yeah," exclaimed Abbie in glee. "What method did you use?"
"The old under the coat."
"Doesn't always work I guess."
The books were almost gone by then, so after autographing a copy of "Mein Kampf," chanting "Doubleday/doublecross," and giving moral support to Dylanologist A.J. Weberman's plan to storm the store, Abbie decided to close up shop for the day. And a profitable day it had been. At $2 a book, 50 books sold, no overhead, and no street vendor summons. Why if me and a few other cheap souls hadn't lifted a few copies of "Steal This Book," Abbie could have done really well.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.