From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Billed as the first serious study of shoplifting, this is a highly informative and entertaining response to a compelling question: Why do people steal? Shteir focuses on the kind of stealing that often gets brushed under society's rug. Shoplifting, as distinguished from other kinds of stealing, is very old, nearly half-a-millennium, the word lifter being used by Shakespeare, circa 1591. About 9 percent of Americans shoplift, Shteir tells us, and as anyone who follows the tabloids is well aware, not all of them are downtrodden or desperate. Celebrity shoplifters play a key role in the book, as do boosters (people who resell stolen goods), kleptomaniacs, and Robin Hoods (those who redistribute their stolen booty). Shteir traces the legal and medical history of shoplifting, too, showing how previous generations looked more disapprovingly on shoplifting than we do at one point, it was punishable by death and how the search for . cur. led to some pretty significant discoveries in the fields of criminology and psychology. A comprehensive, thoughtful book that should get readers' mental juices stirring.--Pitt, Davi. Copyright 2010 Booklist
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Its pervasiveness notwithstanding, shoplifting has received minimal scholarly attention. Unfortunately, this book falls short as a "cultural history of shoplifting." Shteir (theater, DePaul Univ.) begins by reviewing the origins of Western concepts such as ownership, theft, and punishment (which form the basis of much of her discussion). She points out that before shoplifting became a problem in the consumer-oriented commercial world (beginning in the 19th century), it was considered in the context of a philosophical debate over whether a person may ever rightly steal another's goods. In the 19th century, shoplifting became a legal and then a psychological issue; in the 20th, it became a law enforcement and major economic issue for business and government. Shteir fills the volume with cases of people caught up in the allure of stealing goods--cases both infamous (Jane Austen's aunt, Abbie Hoffman, Debra Winger) and more commonplace--and she looks at societal efforts to stop them and public attention devoted to them. But she wanders rather than analyzes, offering few conclusions about shoplifting. Furthermore, she includes very little on how less developed and non-Western societies address the issue. A better though hardly comprehensive treatment is Kerry Segrave's Shoplifting: A Social History (CH, Nov'01, 35-1637). The full study remains unwritten. Summing Up: Not recommended. C. K. Piehl Minnesota State University, Mankato
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"Successful theft exhilarates," wrote Truman Capote in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Shteir's cultural history evinces that reading about it can be just as exhilarating. Shteir (Striptease) unravels the mystery of why 27 million Americans shoplift everything from condoms and Bibles to much more conspicuous items like kayaks and rugs. She interviews shoplifters who cross gender, ethnic, social, and economic lines-she is just as determined to learn why individuals are driven to do it as well as how the culture has understood it: "Is it a disease or a symbol of greed?" "What does it mean that more and more white-collar shoplifters are caught committing the crime?" Tracing the evolution of shoplifting through history (Eve, she quips, was the very first shoplifter when she swiped that apple), the responses of the police and of stores, Shteir examines its social significance and discovers that everyone from St. Augustine to Alfred Hitchcock have had an opinion on sticky-fingered shoppers. Shteir's fascination for the topic and sense of humor are infectious, and make her history of this curious, understudied crime compulsively readable. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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"Shoplifting has been a sin, a crime, a confession of sexual repression, a howl of grief, a political yelp, a sign of depression, a badge of identity, and a backdoor to the American Dream," writes Shteir (criticism & dramaturgy, DePaul Univ. Theater Sch.; Gypsy: The Art of the Tease) in her introduction to this fascinating and accessible study. In tracing the cultural history of shoplifting, she lays out three main themes in society's understanding of it: as a crime, an illness, or a political act. She traces society's response to shoplifting in Western history and literature, from Plato and St. Augustine, through over 400 years of laws and punishment for petty crimes. From there she surveys the idea of kleptomania, Freudian explanations for stealing, and political justifications for shoplifting by everyone from Emma Goldman to Abby Hoffman. The second part of the book is a more contemporary history of the crime and efforts to stop it. Shteir suggests that shoplifting and society's response have more to do with our ideas of consumption and desire than they do with crime. VERDICT A well-written and notable book on an under-studied topic. Highly recommended.-Jessica Moran, California State Archives, Sacramento (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.