[sixties-l] Still a Steal (new edition of Steal This Book) (fwd)

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Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 19:34:57 EDT

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    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Sat, 01 Jun 2002 13:44:32 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Still a Steal (new edition of Steal This Book)


    May 31, 2002

    Publisher's Note: Last year, the publishing house Four Walls Eight Windows
    asked me to write a fresh introduction to the new edition of Abbie
    Hoffman's Steal This Book.
    The new edition is now available and also includes a new introduction by
    Lisa Fithian, who worked with Abbie, Johanna Lawrenson and I (and many of
    you!) causing trouble in the 1980s. Of course, we're still at it, for as
    long as tyranny is on the loose. íHasta la victoria, siempre! Here's what I

    Still a Steal

    By Al Giordano

    "He just had the idea it would be a good little gag to liberate this book
    from the bookstores. And we put 'STEAL THIS BOOK' on the back cover of
    Woodstock Nation and the Random House sales manager went bananas. 'We can't
    do this!' The crazier he went, the more Abbie loved it.
    "At that point Abbie decided that his next book was going to be called
    Steal This Book and that's at least part of the reason that Random House
    refused to publish it. Also, they had a few problems with instructions for
    how to blow up things. I don't know if they ever noticed that the little
    Random House logo on Woodstock Nation was the little Random House being
    blown up."
      - Chris Cerf, Editor, Random House
     From Steal This Dream, by Larry Sloman (1998, Doubleday)

    Abbie Hoffman was one hundred percent into anything he did. There was no
    such thing as halfway with Abbie. A task was either something worth going
    to jail for, worth dying for, or it was not worth doing.
    Abbie had the same approach to writing books.
    He wrote the introduction to Steal This Book from the Cook County Jail in
    1970, from where he boasted that he was learning "the only rehabilitation
    possible - hatred of oppression."
    Of all his seven published works, Steal This Book was the most widely read,
    the most notorious.
    Revolution for the Hell of It, or Woodstock Nation, or The Autobiography of
    Abbie Hoffman may be better
    books - where his writing skills shone and he made arguments, to convince
    the reader, rather than the how-to manual structure of this one - but Steal
    This Book was, and remains, the most memorable of his literary works for
    the scandals it caused. It was also probably his most effectively radical
    because it was, largely, a how-to book.
    "The title is 90 percent of the work," lamented the late independent
    filmmaker Jack Smith, but
    Abbie would somehow find another 110 percent, and that's what he put into
    Steal This Book. It was a
    "survival guide," exhaustively researched, to finding "Free food^┼ free
    clothing and furniture^┼ free
    transportation^┼ free land^┼ free housing^┼ free education^┼ free medical care^┼
    free communication^┼
    free play^┼ free money^┼ free dope^┼." to list the opening chapter titles. A
    lot of Steal This Book seems,
    today, three decades later, so, well, basic. Today, any 15-year-old already
    knows how to do a lot of these things. And part of why they know it is
    because Abbie didn't just push the envelope - he ripped it open, and
    declared everybody the winner of the treasures inside. I was one of many
    early teens who used that book to make free long distance telephone calls,
    to set off firecrackers and M-80s as "time bombs" with a simple wind-up
    alarm clock and some wires, and otherwise cause trouble. Steal This Book
    was, above all, utilitarian and working-class. It dealt with the basic
    necessities of life: how to eat, find clothing and shelter, and (we accept
    this, as Abbie did, as a basic human instinct) to have fun.
    The press usually refers to Abbie as a "sixties radical" (never mind that
    this, his most famous literary work, came out in the seventies, or that his
    masterpiece political organizing work occurred in the eighties). And it
    associates Abbie, accurately, with the most well known causes of that era:
    particularly civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam War and the defense of
    the youth counter-culture that, today, has been thoroughly marketed to
    death to three generations by the same forces that once opposed it. Less
    spoken of, today, was the economic theory he laid out with his first
    pamphlet - titled Fuck The System - and in his first book, Revolution for
    the Hell of It. There must be, said Abbie, "a better means of exchange than
    And that's what Steal This Book focused on: How to live free. He found
    cracks in the system, and rather
    than hoard them for himself, he revealed his secrets. Some long-accepted
    "facts of life" - that teenagers
    must obey their parents, or other authorities, for example - simply fell by
    the wayside. Other cracks
    found by Abbie and his pals were later sealed up by the system (techniques
    revealed here for hacking
    public telephones have long been technologically corrected and thus are
    obsolete; Caveat Emptor). For that reason, many - but not all - of the tips
    in Steal This Book are obsolete. Hitchhiking, anyone? Ripping off automats?
    (Anyone under 30 know what an automat is?) Draft dodging? Yes, there was a
    military draft to avoid back then; there's not one today. Thank you, Abbie.
    So when you get to the points of the book that are merely pointing out the
    obvious and you proclaim,
    "Jesus! He's telling us how to make a bookcase out of cinder blocks and
    lumber? How lame is that?" that is the precise moment to pay attention. On
    those pages, we see just how far behind American society was only a few
    decades ago. Kids didn't have the Internet then to seek out the information
    that their parents and the media didn't want them to have. They didn't even
    have a hundred cable TV channels. They had three television networks in the
    major markets, and maybe one or two in rural areas. It was an atmosphere of
    total control. There was no Bart Simpson. But there was Abbie Hoffman,
    without whom Bart would not have been possible. And he was a living,
    breathing person who got clubbed over the head, spied on, infiltrated,
    outlawed, imprisoned, exiled, forgotten, rediscovered, forgotten again,
    then, as Artaud wrote about Van Gogh, he was suicided by society. And a
    whole hell of a lot of what we take for granted today as basic "rights" are
    here and present because real human beings fought for them, and were
    persecuted for waging that fight. His era was full of heroes. But none were
    as effectively heroic as Abbie.
    To read Steal This Book today, in the 21st Century, is an historical
    adventure. Thus, a little historic
    context may be helpful. When he wrote Steal This Book, Abbie had been on
    trial in Chicago in a
    conspiracy case - stemming from demonstrations outside the 1968 Democratic
    National Convention - in what the American Civil Liberties Union later
    called "the political trial of the century." He was
    America's most widely-recognized radical, a media personality, an emblem, a
    symbol, a myth, and still - I may be giving away his secret weapon here - a
    human being, obviously so, to anyone who encountered him in person or
    through any media. He wasn't bigger than life, or better than it. He was,
    in a word, alive.
    And this was better and more exciting than the walking death that most
    celebrities offered then and now.
    Abbie recounts a dialogue between Random House publisher Jason Epstein and
    he when he was
    preparing to write Steal This Book. He described it in the May 1974 issue
    of Harper's magazine, in an
    essay titled "Steal This Author: In which the master of the rip-off learns
    that anything he can do, big
    business can do better." Abbie recounted that Epstein "roared with
    laughter" at the idea of writing a book no one would publish. "He had
    studied society," Abbie wrote of Jason. "He knew how fame was bottled and
    that infamy was even more salable in the fanciful world of pop politics."
    The dialogue part is repeated here:

    Jason: "What book are you going to do next?"
    Abbie: "Jason, I'm going to write a book no one will publish^┼ I'm going to
    call it Steal This Book, and it'll be a handbook for living free, stealing,
    and making violent revolution. I'm going to take on the entire publishing
    industry. I want to test the limits of free speech."
    Jason: "You'll lose, Abbie; everybody does in the end."
    Abbie: "We'll see."

    The result is now legend. After being rejected by 30 publishers, the book
    finally made it into print when Grove Press agreed to publish Steal This
    Book, and was it one of the most smashing successes, probably the most
    notorious, in publishing history. Abbie turned the publishing of Steal This
    Book into a public teach-in on the entire industry of bestsellers.
    "Grove estimated that half the book sales were made in New York City,"
    wrote Abbie in his Harper's piece. "In Pittsburgh no stores carried the
    book. In Philadelphia only one store did, and it charged a dollar more than
    the cover price. No books were to be found in Boston when I took reporters
    on a tour.
    None in the San Francisco Bay area either. The entire Doubleday chain of
    bookstores was boycotting the book. Vice-president George Hecht stated, 'We
    don't want to tell people to steal. We object only to the title. If it was
    titled How to Live for Free, we'd sell it.'"
    Dotson Rader then reviewed it for the New York Times Book Review during
    John Leonard's disobedient
    tenure as editor, even as the Times refused to accept advertising for Steal
    This Book. "I clipped the
    review, wrote a check, and sent the Times its own review for an ad,"
    recalled Abbie. The ad was rejected by the Times, that self-defined
    cathedral of Freedom of the Press.
    In one feel swoop, Abbie had accomplished what he'd set out to do: "Test
    the limits of free speech." He exposed where those fences truly were, and
    kicked many of them down in the process.
    Today, the lid is back on the book publishing industry. I can hardly find a
    book worth shoplifting in the
    chain stores that now dominate the industry. It's all formula. But if you
    like books, or once liked them,
    even if you end up paying for the new edition of Steal This Book, you're
    getting an authentic book^┼ and that, in this age of corporate tyranny, is a
                                                              - Somewhere in
    Mexico, August 2001

    Al Giordano worked with Abbie Hoffman as a young political organizer in the
    1980s. Today he is publisher of The Narco News Bulletin - www.narconews.com
    - reporting on the drug war from Latin America and is (WAS!) a free speech
    defendant - being sued by billionaires - in the Drug War on Trial case in
    New York City.

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