Which books do the British steal?

No, it’s not Michael Oakeshott:

At the London Review Bookshop, John Clegg reports a fondness for philosophers. “Our most-stolen authors, in order, are Baudrillard, Freud, Nietzsche, Graham Greene, Lacan, Camus, and whoever puts together the Wisden Almanack. The appetite for Greene (which seems to have died down a little now) was particularly surprising, but I suppose they identify with Pinkie,” said Clegg.

“We caught a gent last Christmas with £400-worth of stolen books in his trousers and elsewhere. We grabbed all of the bags back, but he returned about half an hour later to reclaim a half-bottle of whisky and his dream journal, which had been at the bottom of one of the bags of stolen books. As we showed him the door he told us: ‘I hope you’ll consider this in the Žižekian spirit, as a radical reappropriation of knowledge.’”

Daunt says that the kleptomaniacal customers in Waterstones have always had a penchant for Kierkegaard, à la Renton in Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting. “You slightly wonder when it’s always books by the likes of Sartre and Kierkegaard – there must be an awful lot of people working their minds out so much that they don’t have any money,” says Daunt. “Whenever I’d go past Kierkegaard I’d make sure they and Wittgenstein were all there, but often the odd one or two would be gone and it always made me smile.”

Here is the full story.


I've have owned a convertible/cabrio car for 14 years, usually parking it on public streets with the top down. The one thing no one ever steals from the car is the hardcover book I leave on the passenger seat, in full view. Apparently, thieves and others see no real value there worth stealing. Now, a jacket or smartphone or camera or other gadget would be gone in no time. But not a book.

Books are not fungible, and thus whatever you have on the seat is unlikely to be of interest to the random thief.

Now, granted, charging actual money for the turgid ravings of Kierkegaard is indeed highway robbery.

If you can get two bucks for one from a used book dealer, you're doing better than average. You'd make more money selling cigarettes on the street corner.

Fewer police chokings, on the bright side.

I have owned convertibles, and I learned to leave the top down if I parked the car someplace where it wasn't secure. Why? I'd rather a thief steal what's inside the car than cut the top with a knife to gain access to what's inside.

In parts of some cities, drivers leave their car doors open. Better than having to deal with a broken window (which is presumably left up to keep out the rain).

open means unlocked.

I will admit modest intoxication, but your pointing out that ambivalence made laugh for four minutes straight. I've been envisioning a town of people who do the other version.

Leave it unlocked!

So, callow undergrad sheep with a penchant for theft but no good sense. And the odd senior citizen who likes a literate thriller (Greene).

The British scholar Daphne Hampton makes Kierkegaard lucid in her work. Don't mock a thinker who has the good sense to say that "life might be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards."

The Wisden is genuinely worth taking.

Or at least it used to be. We have the intertubes now.

The point is that Wisden is classed with philosophy: how wise.

Meanwhile, in America we have William James the philosopher, along with the legendary Bill James of the Baseball Abstracts and sabermetrics, so the theory holds here as well.

Given that the London Review of Books is a dedicated Leftie publication perhaps sound citizens should look upon it as a civic duty to steal their books. Redistribution of Wealth, and all that.

I'm reminded of the "party scene" in the movie and novella Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the movie, when Paul gives a copy of his short story collection (Nine Lives - "sensitive, angry, intensely felt, and dirty, but only incidentally") to Holly, she puts it on the bookshelf where there are no other books. In the novella, however, there are other books, but only about baseball and horses. In the novella, Holly says they are part of her "research". Also in the novella, O.J. Berman reveals to the narrator that, at age 15, Holly lived with a horse jockey in Santa Anita. In a short time, Holly's apartment fills up with strange men, many of them much older than Holly. The narrator observes that the guests do not seem to know each other, and that Holly has "distributed her invitations while zig-zagging through various bars." The narrator browses Holly's bookshelf, which contains only volumes about horses and baseball. Holly: "If a man doesn't like baseball, then he must like horses, and if he doesn't like either of them, well, I'm in trouble...he don't like girls." The narrator notices Rusty Trawler, a short, plump man with a babyish appearance, to whom Holly pays particular attention. Inside a book titled The Baseball Guide, the narrator finds several newspaper clippings about Rusty, which identify him as an orphaned millionaire heir who gained notoriety at the turn of the century when his godfather and custodian was arrested on charges of sodomy. The clippings further describe Rusty's adulthood, which was consumed by three messy marriages and divorces. Included in the clippings are tabloid articles that document Rusty's relationship with Holly - in the novella Holly is engaged to Rusty. The movie implies that Holly has no books or any interest in books, whereas in the novella the books she has on her bookshelf reveal much about Holly and the story being told. In the same way, the books one steals reveal as much about the person from whom they were stolen as about the thief who stole them. I suppose the movie ignored this important aspect of the story being told because it placed emphasis on books (i.e., the written word) rather than the visual (i.e., film).

The narrator notices Rusty Trawler, a short, plump man with a babyish appearance,

Capote himself.

his godfather and custodian was arrested on charges of sodomy.

A character recycled from Other Voices, Other Rooms.

As for books by Graham Greene high on the list of stolen books, two points. One, Greene was English ("Which books do the British steal"). And two, my impression is that writers and artists occupy a higher place among Europeans. My very good friends who are French named their first child, a boy, Graham, after Graham Greene, and named their second child, a girl, after the wife of Rembrandt.

I think you mean 'which books to British book thieves steal'?

J. Budziszewski offered some years ago a precis of Oakeshott's work which left the reader with the distinct impression that reading his books was time wasted. Maybe word's got 'round to British book thieves.

Yes, many commenters seem to consider only the first-order theft, and not which books may be easiest or most lucrative to re-sell.

I guess it isn't Terry Pratchett any more.

Interesting link. Not surprisingly, a lot of books from authors mentioned are small books.

Author pro tip: Publish in giant format to minimize book thefts. Adjust font as necessary.

Due to price sold or poverty of the audience? I wonder how ethics fared.

I asked a retired prof what books are stolen in universities India (where I live.) Her answer: students no longer steal books because in many colleges because, like their young teachers, they stopped reading them. Also she says being seen carrying anything other than a smart phone in a college is deemed below one's dignity

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