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The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting Hardcover – June 30, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Author Rachel Shteir…[presents] a complex view of shoplifting in her richly researched, dry-witted book.” — THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

"Tantalizing enough that you'll not to want to put the book down — especially if you're inclined to lift it.” — NPR

Intelligent…[Shteir] captures her subject from every angle.” — NEW YORK TIMES

Eye-opening and unnerving.” — THE DAILY BEAST

“A serious study of shoplifting…Shteir is an expert at exploring cultural phenomena previously ignored by academia…” — CHICAGO Magazine

 “Shteir’s fascination for the topic and sense of humor are infectious, and make her history of this curious, understudied crime compulsively readable.” — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred)

About the Author

Rachel Shteir is the author of the awardwinning Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show and Gypsy: The Art of the Tease. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Playboy, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor and the head of the BFA program in criticism and dramaturgy at the Theatre School at DePaul University.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (June 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202974
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202971
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am the author of three books: Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show (Oxford University Press, 2004), Gypsy: the Art of the Tease (Yale University Press, 2009), and The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting (The Penguin Press, 2011).

Striptease won the George Freedley Memorial Award and Gypsy was a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick.

I have also written for magazines, newspapers, and blogs including American Theatre, Bookforum, The Daily, The New York Times, Slate, The Guardian, Playboy, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Chicago Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, (the late) New York Newsday, (the late) Lingua Franca, Prospect, The Nation, Tablet, Theatre, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post. I also wrote "The Rahm Report," a column about Rahm Emanuel for during the Chicago mayoral elections.

I have lectured widely on popular culture and theatre and I have been lucky enough to receive many Yaddo residencies as well as MacDowell and Ragdale Colony residencies.

I am Associate Professor at the Theatre School at DePaul University. Before going to Chicago in 2000, I taught at Yale, Carnegie Mellon University, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, the Columbia University School of the Arts, and the National Theatre Institute.

I hold a BA from the University of Chicago in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and an MFA and a DFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism from the Yale School of Drama.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By a fan in Chicago on July 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Insightful, meticulously researched and beautifully written, The Steal explores shoplifting as a cultural phenomenon -- crime, disease, and protest -- that has always been with us and always will be. No one can stop shoplifting-- not the stores with their increasingly sophisticated anti-theft devices, not the police who arrest shoplifters, and not the psychologists who treat them because we shoplift for reasons that are too deeply embedded in our society to ever go away.The book benefits enormously from not only the author's tireless pursuit of every angle of her subject, but also her deep familiarity with the literature of shoplifting. Yet Mrs. Shteir wears her learning lightly. The Steal is as much fun to read as it is informative.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By z-girl on July 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Steal is the best kind of cultural history, excavating myriad and sundry details of everyday life and bringing order to them through a deeply humane and empathetic imagination. This is not just a voyeuristic look into Winona Ryder's troubled criminality. In fact, The Steal is a welcome antidote to the kind of sensationlizing and reductive reporting that all too readily packages the outre for easy digestion. Shteir's scholarly and lively book is magisterially researched, incorporating an astonishing range of material, from histories of the shopping culture of 18th-century London and a lively account of Jane Austen's aunt to interviews with lawyers, psychonanalysts, law enforcement and store security professionals, and, of course, shoplifters. The section on Barcelona anarchists and shoplifting as a form of protest is as revealing a window onto the modern condition as the section on former beauty queen Bess Myerson. This book is nearly impossible to categorize, and that is one of its beauties. It knows how to shape its material in masterfully crafted sentences and a breathtaking control of anecdote and organization, preserving and indeed all the while honoring the nuances and ambiguities of this mesmerizing topic.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Cat Fur Studio on July 26, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
From the history of the rise of shoplifting in old England (coinciding with industrialization and the rise of merchandizing and department stores), to current loss prevention techniques and an attempt to explain why people shoplift and how they can be helped, I found this well written and entertaining enough to engage me on an airplane ride. At the same time, it is well-researched, with sources listed, as one would expect from a scholarly effort. Just one example of a factoid which made this worthwhile to me - the author reports that sales associates in mall stores are trained to be "aggressively hospitable" when a shopper enters a store, as in "Hi, how are you today" because research reveals that such behavior is supposed to make a shopper hesitate before she steals? Harumph. So THAT's why the sales associates are so irritatingly 'friendly' at the mall!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on June 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
Billing itself as the first genuine study of shoplifting, Rachel Shtier's charming cultural history THE STEAL examines the ways in which stealing merchandise has been around for centuries but has exploded particularly in the United States in the last fifty years. Shtier offers a wealth of enjoyable and intelligent anecdotes that stretch from ancient Greece to the present day involving theft. Did you know, for example, that one of the landmark early court cases of shoplifting in England in the early nineteenth century was committed by Jane Austen's aunt? (The prosecution could not explain adequately why a wealthy woman would stoop to petty thievery, and so she got off, in a pattern that would be replicated for decades in the next two centuries in cases involving "thrill shoplifters"). Shtier's prose is as fizzing and as enjoyable as her sensational topic merits: this is a book that does not position itself as a heavily scholarly study of shoplifting, but rather as an enjoyable cultural history of the crime marketed to a broadly popular audience. As such, the work does not freight itself with either footnotes or heavy sociological analysis, and attempts to cover all kinds of bases, from the history of the crime (which Shtier intriguingly argues mushroomed after the appearance of Abbie Hoffman's incendiary STEAL THIS BOOK in 1971) to its effects on merchandise sales today, and to the extraordinary efforts taken by merchants to create anti-theft devices and shaming techniques to combat theft. I found Shtier's prose, her subject matter, and her wealth of material great fun, and her research impressive; my only problems occurred with the book's sometimes confusing organization. (More specific chapter titles to announce her topics would certainly have helped.) But this is a rich and entertaining read overall.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Frank Beckendorf on July 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Apparently, I have a newer edition of this title because mine has a woman carrying a purse on her arm. But, there's probably little difference in the old and the new. Anyway, the author's take on shoplifting is quite fascinating! I am still trying to digest how someone can write such a good book from something as obscure as shoplifting! But, Rachel Shteir has!

For about $16.00, you can pick up this book and land in "book heaven". When Rachel goes from earlier punishments to serious studies of this crime, she provides ample references. From retailers and offenders, the author details the feelings since ancient times when shoplifting was around.

This is a remarkable title AND from something that seems an unlikely subject for a study, it's great! Why even Abbie Hoffman tried to publish something like this!
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