Saturday, September 3, 2011

Steal: a cultural history of shoplifting

Did you know Jane Austin’s aunt, Leigh Perrot, was a kleptomaniac? This is one of the more interesting facts to come out of Rachel Shteir's Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting.

I’m a big fan of the cultural history genre and I had high hopes for this book, as shoplifting is such a fascinating topic and this book is apparently the first full scale study of it to be published.

Having worked in retail for many years I'm also very aware of shoplifting, otherwise known as 'shrinkage', from a practical perspective!

But overall, I found Shteir’s book a very uneven read and frustratingly disjointed. I found myself wanting to really get into the book, but the narrative was just everywhere and there was little done to connect the chapters together into a coherent theme.

For example, there were really interesting facts about the ‘loss prevention’ industry and how much ‘shrinkage’ cost retailers per year. But these issues were sort of scattered throughout the book and just when you thought it would get interesting, Shteir would move onto a another topic.

Perhaps, I’m being a bit harsh but I guess the bar was set so high with Siddhartha Mukherjee’s magisterial cultural history of cancer: The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

That being, said the best parts of the book were the analysis of shoplifting as a gendered crime and the increasing punitative punishments metered out in some parts of the United States. Also the chapter on celebrity shoplifters was fascinating and it was a clever hook to start the book with one of the most infamous celebrity shoplifters, Winona Ryder.

But overall, I was really disappointed in this book.

1 comment:

FIaja said...

won't waste time there. I read Emperor of all Maladies...helped me come to terms with the whole c'shiz... It was so well written as well...and was literally a life saver... knowledge is power... kind of would have been interested in the history of shoplifting in the way i'm sometimes interested in what tori spelling wears... your blog is great.