Thoughts on “Steal This Book” by Abbie Hoffman

After the list of Academy Award nominees came out, I made it a point to watch as many of the Best Picture nominees as possible, which included “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Since I really liked this film, I decided I ought to read Abbie Hoffman’s most famous book, which I purchased instead of stole.

The book is essentially a handbook for the hippie revolutionary. Although much of the material is dated (I completely skipped the last section which was just a list of resources in various cities which are all likely defunct), there were still some entertaining tidbits, and it does give insight into the thinking of one of the 60’s most prominent activists.

Steal This Book is, in a way, a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika. It preaches jailbreak. It shows you where and exactly how to place the dynamite that will destroy the walls.

(p. XXI)

As I said, most of what is in this book is dated and is only of interest from a socio-historical perspective. For example, Hoffman’s information regarding Guerrilla TV, which is made moot by social media, where anyone can create a YouTube channel and broadcast their political views to the masses.

Guerrilla TV is the vanguard of the communications revolution, rather than the avant-garde cellophane light shows and the weekend conferences. One pirate picture on the sets in Amerika’s living rooms is worth a thousand wasted words.

(p. 144)

In light of all the demonstrations we have witnessed over the last couple years, Abbie does offer some sound advice to those who choose non-violent demonstrations as a means of social change.

Numbers of people are only one of the many factors in an effective demonstration. The timing, choice of target and tactics to be employed are equally important. There have been demonstrations of 400,000 that are hardly remembered and demonstrations of a few dozen that were remarkably effective. Often the critical element involved is the theater. Those who say a demonstration should be concerned with education rather than theater don’t understand either and will never organize a successful demonstration, or for that matter, a successful revolution.

(p. 147)

I will conclude by saying this book is definitely not for most people. Not only is it an anachronism, but Hoffman appears to advocate for violent behavior in parts of this book, going so far as to provide instructions for activities that I personally find abhorrent and have no place in a civilized society. But I will grant that Hoffman was writing at a time when individuals fighting for social change were subject to severe reprisal, as is evident in the film “Trial of the Chicago 7.” My recommendation, watch the movie and skip the book. Feels weird saying that.


Filed under Non-fiction

10 responses to “Thoughts on “Steal This Book” by Abbie Hoffman

  1. Interesting title for a book thats for sure. Not to many people ever say the movie is better than a book but considering you are huge into reading I totally believe you Jeff.
    Stay safe.

    • Hoffman was one of the defendants in the trial, which is depicted in the film. Highly recommend the movie. I thought it was better than Nomadland, which won best picture

  2. Never read the book. Now I know what I’m not missing, lol! Thank you, Jeff.

    Loved the Chicago Seven movie though.

    • Yeah, there are plenty of better books to read, imho. Still, it gives some context to the film. Nothing you read is a complete waste. Glad you liked the movie. Hope all is well.

  3. Hi Jeff just read your post about Steal This Book. I remember reading it a long time ago. As a Black British I couldn’t really relate to it. I too watched the movie about the Chicago 7, I did relate to that, and the events it records. I related to the tribulations at the time. Your post reminded of another book – Saul Alinsky’s Rules For Radicals A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. The book was recommended to me by a lecturer who taught on my social work course. I re-read it a few years ago, after reading Barack Obama’s Dreams Of My Father. Obama wrote about Rules for Radicals. At the time of re-reading Alinsky’s text I thought it was still relevant. Maybe its time for another read.

    • Hi DQ! First, I have to say that whenever I see you have left a comment I get a little excited, since you consistently share insightful information in your thoughtful responses. I confess that I am unfamiliar with Alinsky, but my interest is piqued. I’ll have to add it to my exponentially growing wish list of books 😀 I hope you are well. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment. Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. I like how you can always get something out of a book, Jeff. The sign of a real and upbeat reader!

    • Thanks Barb! I always try to glean something from a book. Few are the books that I’ve tossed aside feeling they were a complete waste of time, but there have been some. But a small degree of discernment usually helps one avoid that pitfall 😀 Hope the rest of your weekend is fun.