Looking at several 'fun facts' pages, the claim of the Bible being the most shoplifted book appears on several of them. Example 1, Example 2, Example 3 Example 4

The Bible, the world's best-selling book, is also the world's most shoplifted book. Most are taken from hotel rooms.

I have not found any real sources to it, that the bible actually is the most stolen book.

Wikipedia article about shoplifting books

Ron Rosenbaum, an author and New York Observer columnist, wrote in 1999 that Barnes & Noble had a list of these authors whose books are the most frequently stolen from that book-store chain (or perhaps the Union Square store in the chain, where his source, "a helpful clerk", worked): Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Raymond Chandler, Michel Foucault, Dashiell Hammett, Jack Kerouac, Jeanette Winterson, but none more frequently than books by Charles Bukowski.

Nowhere in the article is the Bible mentioned.

So what is it, IS the Bible the most shoplifted book? Is there any research done on the topic?

  • 1
    Inversely, can it in any way actually be confirmed the bible is the sold book? I could probably find dozens of stolen bibles, but I can only think of one person who bought one.
    – AthomSfere
    May 2, 2013 at 11:18
  • 1
    @AthomSfere That is just anecdotal. I don't know a single person that have stolen a bible, but that doesn't prove anything. And this question isn't about whenever or not bible is most sold book. That's another question.
    – Wertilq
    May 2, 2013 at 11:21
  • what I meant was can we prove its the most sold book. Or even the most printed? Are specific editions stolen more frequently, are all the different editions counted as the same book (Lump in the always free Gideon's bible as "Stolen" from hotels?
    – AthomSfere
    May 2, 2013 at 11:37
  • @AthomSfere: That's a separate question. Here's a closely related one: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1112/…
    – Oddthinking
    May 2, 2013 at 14:33
  • @Oddthinking: however, if it were the most printed, it may have a higher probability of being stolen (assuming people who stole books do it at random, which is most probably not true) :D
    – nico
    May 12, 2013 at 9:36

3 Answers 3


Your quote actually contains the explanation for the discrepancy. What is happening is that some of the examples are taking a slightly wider definition of 'shoplifting' than the clerk in the Wikipedia quote.

In many hotels throughout the world, you will find a copy of the Bible placed somewhere in the room. They are mostly placed by an organization called "Gideons International", whose intention is to make the Bible as widely available as possible, without cost. The first examples you are looking at are simply including Bibles taken from hotel rooms (of which there are, unsurprisingly,many) in the numbers of 'shoplifted' bibles. It's stretching the definition a little because the bibles aren't for sale, and Gideons are in fact happy for anyone who wants one to take one.

The other examples that don't include the Bible in the frequently shoplifted list exclude the ones taken from hotel rooms.

  • 1
    Sure that is what I thought too, but you need some proof to back that up. It's a sound explanation, but it's just a hypothesis. I want references, research or something more substantial.
    – Wertilq
    May 2, 2013 at 13:33
  • I wonder about the technical legal status of taking those hotel bibles. Typically, taking things from hotel rooms is stealing. But, considering that the goal of these Bibles is actually to give away Bibles to everyone, maybe you re actually allowed to take them?
    – Jonathon
    Nov 21, 2015 at 14:06
  • 2
    The bibles in question are usually marked with an internal sticker or custom page identifying it as having been placed by the Gideons, and explicitly inviting the reader to take it for no charge. (If somebody's in a hotel room this week, try taking a picture of it for reference.) The Gideons routinely check the rooms and replace bibles that have been taken. It's a long way from there to shoplifting, particularly with no shop involved. Dec 13, 2022 at 16:32

Apparently, it depends upon where you are:

Lynn Van Matre. Chicago Tribune (pre-1997) Chicago, Ill 31 Aug 1992

What the well-read thief is swiping these days

"Bibles are our No. 1 shoplifted book," lamented a spokesman for an independent Chicago chain. "Shoplifters can resell them right away on the street or `L' platforms."

  • 4
    Interesting, I think that may be very local to the US (and possibly other countries) where a "street Bible market" actually exists. I have never saw anyone selling bibles on the street, say, in Italy or France.
    – nico
    May 12, 2013 at 9:38
  • 4
    @nico I have never seen someone selling bibles on the street in the US either May 13, 2013 at 23:13
  • @BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft: good to know!
    – nico
    May 14, 2013 at 6:04
  • 2
    If you see someone on the street selling a box of new books. You are going to highly suspect that they are stolen. Which hampers sales, price, and drives up the risk. If this is a box of Bibles, well, they are just a devout Christian trying to bring the word of the Lord to the masses.
    – Jonathon
    Nov 21, 2015 at 14:03

Yes, or one of the most shoplifted books. As your forth example, the NYT article says:

At BookPeople in Austin, Tex., the rate of theft has increased to approximately one book per hour. I asked Steve Bercu, BookPeople’s owner, what the most frequently stolen title was.

“The Bible,” he said, without pausing.


As it turns out, Bibles are snatched even at the Parable Christian Store in Springfield, Ore., the manager told me, despite the fact that if a person asks for a Bible, they’ll be given a copy without charge.

In an earlier article by the NYT sevral small bookshop owners asked what are their most shoplifted books:

On both East Coast and West, the Beat poets Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs kept popping up as favorites among shoplifters. (In Britain, The Economist surveyed booksellers on thievery and found that the Beat poet Jack Kerouac was No. 1 choice.) Right behind the Beats comes the Bible.

and particular examples:

At Ventura Bookstore in Ventura, Calif., Kerouac's ''On the Road'' and Ginsberg's ''Howl!'' are at the top of the most-wanted lists as well as that old favorite, Abbie Hoffman's ''Steal This Book,'' said Ed Elrod, the owner. Tarot cards and how-to books, particularly sex manuals, are also popular. Even Bibles get taken, probably for use in marriage ceremonies, Mr. Elrod said.

At Powell's Book Store, in Portland, Ore., one of the largest chain stores, the general manager, Miriam Sontz, said that people who take books fall into two categories: those who steal on impulse and those who take books to sell for money. She said that people take books they would be ashamed to buy: books on cocaine cultivation, sex dysfunction or ''racy'' books for teen-agers. Bibles are also a favorite, she added, saying she does not know why.

At Green Apple Books and Music in San Francisco, the general manager, Pete Mulvihill, reports that current favorites for shoplifters included Bibles and books on philosophy.

There are other stores in that article that don't mention the bible as one of their best-stealer but there are a lot of stores where it is.

It also happens in libraries, as shown in this transcript of a segment from On the Media:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: One place where the book thief is more likely to read what he hath took is the public library, and library theft tends to lean toward the practical more than the popular; news you can use, so to speak - how-to books ranging from auto repair to divorce, how to ace the GEDs and The Joy of Sex, also anything - and this is from libraries across the country - anything to do with witchcraft, the occult, UFOs or astrology. And there are some other popular choices for the kleptomaniacally-inclined - the Bible, for instance. [SOUND OF RON ROSENBAUM LAUGHING]] Ron Rosenbaum.

LARRA CLARK: They do, actually. A couple of librarians, including one in Salt Lake City, she said that the Bible was their most frequently stolen book.

However, in hotels the phenomenon is less frequent, as shows this Article by Yahoo Travel, that lists the top 10 stolen items from Novotel hotels. The bible is not among them:

  1. Towels
  2. Cushions
  3. Bathrobes
  4. TV remote controls
  5. Light bulbs
  6. Mini-bar contents
  7. Clothes hangers
  8. Bathroom display trays
  9. Coffee sachets
  10. Plastic tissue boxes

I couldn't find any information on whether the Novotel hotels chain has Bibles in their hotels, if you have knowledge that they don't please comment it.

The article doesn't say they are not stolen, it says that they are, but only by 1% of the guest

A survey from last year found that 86% of hotel guests had taken toiletries, as opposed to a mere 3% who admitted to stashing away bathrobes in their suitcase... and then there's the hard-core 1% who confessed to stealing electronics, silverware, and most worryingly, bibles!

a lot less than Towels and Bathrobes.

  • 2
    This is still mainly anecdotal claims. I listed several of those myself. I wanted something more... substantial.
    – Wertilq
    May 2, 2013 at 11:05
  • Despite your claiming that the answer is "Yes", only one of your quotes actually says that the Bible is the most shoplifted book. Some of them just say "Bibles are also sometimes stolen". May 2, 2013 at 13:27
  • 1
    @DJClayworth, as I said, "Yes, or one of the most shoplifted books".
    – SIMEL
    May 2, 2013 at 14:01
  • In the 1960's or so, wasn't there a book entitled "Steal this Book!" (by a counter-culture comedian whose name I sadly have forgotten...) Dec 12, 2022 at 21:00
  • @paulgarrett Abby Hoffman
    – TheAsh
    Oct 16, 2023 at 17:24

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