The most commonly stolen book at the San Francisco Public Library may surprise you


Updated 3:00 pm PST, Friday, February 14, 2020
The books that mostly commonly go missing — and are assumed to be stolen — at the San Francisco Public Library. Photo: Getty Images

In liberal San Francisco, you might think sticky fingers at the public library would pull Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" off the shelves.


The books that mostly commonly go missing — and are assumed to be stolen — at the San Francisco Public Library are written by a conservative radio host who was among the first to endorse Donald Trump in the 2016 election. 

"The one author our head of collections has to check regularly and purchase new copies of our books by Michael Savage," library spokesperson Kate  Patterson wrote in an email.  "We check once a year to see if all the copies are gone and reorder. We have moved to e-book for most of them, so we can ensure copies are around.  The main title that disappears quickly is 'Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder.'"

Released in April 2005, 'Liberalism is a Mental Disorder' was on the New York Times best-seller list for three weeks and "attacks the insanities and inanities of extreme leftist thought."

The SF Public Library hasn't tracked exactly how many of this particular title or all of Savage's books have been lost, but "we have found that his political titles go missing more often," Patterson said. The cost of Savage's stolen books to the library is unknown as the system collects only general numbers on missing titles. The library's overall collection budget in the last fiscal year was $15.87 million and the cost of replacing items, including damaged copies of adult fiction and nonfiction, was approximately $79,350.

Among its 28 branches, the San Francisco library makes 2.75 million items on its shelves available for the public to check out. In general, the subject genres that most commonly go missing are "paranormal" and "conspiracy theories." San Francisco isn't alone in this. In Susan Orlean's new book "The Library Book," it's revealed titles by conspiracy theorists are also stolen the most at the Los Angeles Public Library. Savage himself has been called a conspiracy theorist by publications like the Washington Post and the Guardian.

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Savage, who broadcasts his daily show from a Marin home overlooking San Francisco Bay, was surprised by the news. "What an honor," he said with a laugh.

Savage grew up with liberal Russian immigrant parents in the Bronx and earned a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. He went on to become a conservative political commentator and host of "The Savage Nation," earning more than 11 million listeners with his nationalist beliefs, including his staunch stance against immigration. Savage was banned from visiting the European Union in 2009 for his comments on immigration and Islam.

Savage has written 28 books, from "The Political Zoo" to "Stop Mass Hysteria." He's baffled by why his 2006 title "Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder" is popular with book thieves but thinks maybe the provocative title has something to do with it.

"Who is stealing it?" he wondered. "Is it people who are poor who agree with my message and want it, or is it people taking it out and trashing it to throw it away?"

While Savage doesn't endorse stealing books from libraries, he wishes Bay Area residents who lean liberal would read his writings.

"I think they need an alternative viewpoint in that the entire media is skewed one way," said Savage. "It’s a one-party state. It’s a one-media state. I don’t think any rational liberal wants to live in an autocracy. We know what the left thinks in San Francisco. Do we know what the rational educated right thinks?"

For those who listen to conservative radio, it's perhaps no surprise to hear Savage bring up this perceived media bias, a common refrain on his talk show. It's a narrative put forward and perpetuated by many conservative figures, especially President Trump and his allies, to discredit unfavorable coverage.

As for the library, they don't know why his book goes missing either.

"Your guess is as good as ours," Patterson said.

Amy Graff is a digital editor with SFGATE. Email her: