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An Incredible Story of Book... Stealing

An Incredible Story of Book... Stealing
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Palina Dolia

Reading has never been a cheap hobby. Just think how much you've spent in your entire life on your home library, a part of which you have never even read! Prices keep going up; the wallet becomes empty at the sheer sight of price tags in a bookstore. So what's to be done? Should you just sneak the coveted book on the sly, while no one sees? It's time to get on the slippery slope of crime… and immediately get off it, because stealing a book is immoral and reprehensible. Without a long introduction, let's finally talk about book stealing.

OK, each of us accidentally took out unpaid sweets or gum from the store at least once: the cashier overlooked, you too, you don't want to return for a penny change, and you continue to live, but already with a heavy load of your sin. Hardly any of you thought, "what if I stole a book!" They are not so easy to hide; they are difficult to take out of the store, and, basically, why? Have you heard anything about public libraries? They say that you can borrow any book there – yes, absolutely for free. However, some people seem to prefer to live without a reader's card and don't save for the coveted copy; instead, they just come to the nearest bookstore and, like barbarians, sweep everything that is not nailed to the shelves.

The problem of book stealing may seem to you insignificant: who steals books, after all? But according to statistics, about one book per hour disappears from its place and appears in the house of the villain. What is most often the object of such an unusual crime? Oddly enough, it’s the Bible. Probably, book thieves failed to read to the point "don't steal." The owner of the BookPeople chain of bookstores, Steve Burke, gives an interesting explanation for this: some people believe that the word of God should be carried to the masses for free, and therefore do not consider stealing the Bible something shameful. On the contrary, social justice has been restored! It is even stolen from Parable Christian bookstores, the main trait of which is that the Bible… can be obtained for free. Yes, when all you need is just ask a salesperson, without all these complex theft schemes in the spirit of the "Mission: Impossible" movie.


Fiction is the most popular genre in terms of book poaching. Some authors are stolen so often that books have to be hidden behind the counter for the sake of security. For example, in the same interview with Steve Burke, he mentions that in the St. Marc store in Manhattan there is a so-called "library of temptations", where the works of William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Martin Amis, Jack Kerouac and many others are hidden. What’s interesting, three of these are representatives of the bit-generation in literature. Apparently, there is some romance in stealing the volume of beatniks and escape in protest.

In addition, it turned out that if a book appears on the list of recommended reading it also contributes to the increase in cases of theft. For example, when Mark Danielewski's book “House of Leaves” was published, a lot of praise from critics provoked a wave of book kidnappings. Danielewski himself was outraged. In addition, some bookstores put cards on their shelves with tips on what to read from the latest novelties. However, some people perceive it as "The Bookstore Recommendation for Stealing". It seems that such thieves are quite suggestible.

So, the ones who steal books more often are very young people. For adolescents, this can be something of an initiation rite, an adrenaline rush, an almost romantic gesture. In the end, a much more fascinating story will probably be connected with the stolen book than with the honestly bought with the money earned.


The aforementioned Danielewski said in his interviews that he finds particular pleasure in how long he saves for a book, and then finally runs to the store and buys the desired book. However, not everyone shares his beliefs. In 2009, the Boulder Bookstore in Colorado was home to the world's most dramatic literary story. Get your handkerchiefs ready: a drunken writer was arrested while trying to steal his own books. Authors do not always receive enough copies of their creation to give away to all their friends, and royalties often leave much to be desired. So, you have to commit a crime against yourself. By the way, the bookstore still hides the identity of this very writer: there are only assumptions. Either this was Jon Krakauer (maybe drunkenness was not part of his image, but the book "Into the Wild" could well change that), or Jello Biafra (he was also a former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, and stealing his book was very punkish).

Unfortunately, there is no reliable statistics about which books are most often the victims of thieves (the Bible does not count; this is an obvious and generally accepted option). But how do you like that? The Telegraph of London called "The Virgin Suicides" by Jeffrey Eugenides "The Most Stolen Book of Our Time". Perhaps because its target audience is young and slightly faint-hearted people prone to impulsive actions. Another popular among thieves author was Paul Auster. Probably, his criminal prose just asks for malleable visitors, "hide me in your pocket and run!"


Book stealing is perhaps the most selfish of all forms of theft, but it has a very ancient history. When books were rare and cost fabulous money, the temptation to steal them was much higher. In the Middle Ages, a curse was considered an excellent protection against a thief attack on a book. For example, in the 1460s the last page often wrote, "Whoever steals this book will be hanged." Earlier records are slightly more bloodthirsty – in a German copy of the Bible in the 1200s the curse read, “Whoever steals this book, let him die a painful death; let he be fried in a pan; let epilepsy and fever twist him; let him break on the wheel and be hanged. Amen". However, book curses are worthy of a separate material – we will return to them later.

However, neither the curse nor the prospect of being exiled to Australia for stealing books (an option available only to the British) did not stop people. At the same time, many of the most famous book thieves were not all poor representatives of the criminal environment, not at all! On the contrary, at first glance, they were very intelligent and pious guys. For example, the Bavarian theologian Alois Pichler, who worked at the Russian Imperial Library in St. Petersburg, looked like a very decent person. In the period from 1869 to 1871 he stole almost 4,000 volumes. It was due to his loose coat with special inner pockets, where he stuffed books he liked. Result: caught, convicted, exiled to Siberia.


Of course, Pichler is not the only known book thief: there have been cases that are more interesting. Let's take a look at the most entertaining thieves, from the mention of which librarians and bookstore workers still feel a slight shiver.

Book bandit

A lot of grandiose book robberies were committed, but only one criminal received the honorary nickname "book bandit". Stephen Bloomberg, a man with a very dubious way of expressing his love of literature, spent many years traveling across North America while pocketing books from shops and public libraries. By the time of his arrest in 1990, he was wanted in 45 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces for stealing nearly $5.3 million worth of books. Solid, right? Of course! From the University of Oregon alone, Stephen stole nearly 9,000 unique documents detailing the lives of the first local colonists. In the end Bloomberg received a big fine and 71 months in prison.

Professor Prince

In 2011, Marino Massimo de Caro was appointed director of the oldest library in Naples, the State Library of Oratorian Girolami. He was admitted to this position in an instant, because among his many merits he had the status of professor of the University of Siena and very ancient aristocratic roots.

In reality, de Caro had neither. But there was a thirst for profit, criminal talent and a bunch of friends, with whom he made raids on bookshelves under the supervision of turned off CCTV cameras. He completely ignored his main duties – that is, the management of the library. While the precious books werebeing moved into de Caro’s personal possession, a dog and mountains of paper debris moved around the library.

A couple of years after his employment, de Caro gathered his friends and disappeared with rare publications worth millions of euros. However, they were all arrested quite quickly. There was one problem: some books have not been found to this day. So, if you come across a copy of 16th-century Divine Comedy or Thomas More's Utopia in a bookstore, there is one library in Italy that has something to say about it.


Thieves, whose main goal is profit, are rarely interested in the book itself and its significance in general, and therefore sometimes treat them in a barbaric way. The same aforementioned de Caro removed covers from the books to make them more difficult to track, and sold everything separately.

But compared to our destroyer, de Caro was an affectionate lover of book culture. Robert Sorodich (yes, that's the man's last name) started with the sale of antique prints which is a completely legitimate business he even had a kind of weight in. However, in 1980 he came up with a brilliant idea: why look for expensive ancient prints, if they can be cut from books for free? So, he began his short, but very bright way as a book thief. Sorodich enjoyed the weaknesses of the library security system and stole rare printed editions, usually of the 19th century. Then he cut out the illustrations, framed them nicely and sold as usual.

But such easy success intoxicates and weakens vigilance. His career ended when he tried to steal from the library of the University of Illinois: a local attentive employee noticed that there were books in the hall here and there, which lacked engravings, and called the police.

Cool librarian

This may sound insane, but not all book thefts are deserving of condemnation, punishment and universal disapproval. Sometimes the circumstances are such that stealing is the only way to protect valuable specimens. That's when ordinary people go to the length of the most desperate actions. Abdel Kader Haidara was such a man.

He dedicated his life to collecting rare manuscripts from all over Mali and studying them in as many as 45 libraries in Timbuktu. These were manuscripts on all imaginable and unthinkable topics – from history and politics to ethics and music. Lifetime project.

In 2012, during the Tuareg uprising, militants of Ansar al-Din radical group captured the city. They promised not to harm the manuscripts, but what were their promises worth? Haidar didn't believe them. He gathered a small group of volunteers to commit the most daring robbery in the history of the city – of their own libraries. Under the cover of night, Haidar and his allies risked their lives to pick up the manuscripts and move them to safety, and it was not for nothing: some time after that, the militants began to destroy the ancient mausoleums, and the libraries were no exception. The efforts of The Librarians of Timbuktu saved hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable manuscripts from destruction.

Archival pests

Let's move to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. There are no such ancient manuscripts, but plenty of the most important documents and records in the history of America. Actually, that's why the archive often became a victim of book thieves or just lovers to spoil other people's documents. No wonder. It became so commonplace that they created a separate section dedicated to such mischiefs, even with photos, on the website of the archive.

Among the members of this "wall of shame" was even former adviser to President Clinton Sandy Berger, who methodically took away secret documents in his clothes for many years. Other than that, this collection consists of ordinary guys, who tried to sell their trophy on eBay and were immediately arrested. Everything that was signed by Abraham Lincoln was particularly popular with such book thieves for some reason.

Thomas Lowry was on this list not because he stole a book from the National Archives, not at all. He changed a document! He wrote a new number in Patrick Murphy's pardon document signed by Lincoln. Lowry managed to change the date of this pardon from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865 – exactly the day before the president was shot dead in the Ford Theater. Lowry did all this to make Murphy's pardon more valuable and the document meaningful. By the way, they found a substitution so late that even the statute of limitations on the crime had expired, so that in the end Lowry got away with a ban on visiting the National Archives and some public censure. On the other hand, he achieved his goal: the document really attracted the attention of the public.

When you can't afford books, come to the library – and the world of literature will be at your feet for free.

Internet Portal Maintenance Department


How Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck Became the First Book Merch

11 Jun 2021

You often want to boast about your new hobby to the whole world to know. Got hooked on a book? Buy bookmarks with quotes Discovered a new fancy music band? Hurry up, you need a T-shirt with their logo! Impressed by a new film? Well, you get the train of thought. No matter what we admire, there is a suitable merch somewhere in the world – clothes, accessories and other branded items. It is believed that the era of merch began with Disney's Snow White and the release of the main character, gnomes and kind animal friends toys. But few people know that the first real merchandise was... bookish. Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, today we'll take a look at how Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter became pioneers in this difficult endeavour and what came of it.

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