Book Review: The Steal

| Tue Jul. 19, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting

By Rachel Shteir

PENGUIN PRESS

For as long as shopping has existed, so too has shoplifting, from early incarnations in 17th- and 18th-century England (where cutpurses akin to the fictional Moll Flanders filched brocaded silk from London storefronts) to its modern manifestation as a disease (kleptomania), anti-establishment protest (the 1971 cult manual Steal This Book), and vice of the blasé celebrity (Winona Ryder, Lindsay Lohan). Yet through it all, no one has come up with a cure—retail's "silent epidemic" still costs consumers a small fortune in price increases. In this fascinating and sweeping history, Shteir, a cultural critic, shows how the crime's persistence reveals "important truths about our markets, our courtrooms, and our identities."