Book of the Week 28 – The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

29th July, 2020

I wanted to like this book, found the early pages a chore…. then suddenly, I found myself hooked.

Mary Pilon’s book revolves around Ralph Anspach’s legal case against Parker Brothers. Parker Brothers own the “Monopoly” boardgame; Anspach, an idealistic economics lecturer, disliked monopolies and created a superficially similar game, “Anti-Monopoly”, in which you win by breaking up corporate power. As you can imagine, Parker Brothers didn’t take kindly to the existence of a similar (?) game with a similar (?) name.

In the course of fighting the case, Anspach researched the history of Monopoly. He made the explosive discovery that the creation myth of the game – that it was sketched out by a desperately poor Charles Darrow in the depths of the Depression – is exactly that: a myth. Darrow was patiently taught the game by a friend; the friend learned it from Atlantic City Quakers, and the Quakers adapted a game in general circulation – which traces its lineage back to Lizzy Magie’s “Landlord’s Game” (1903). But would any of that help Anspach defeat Parker Brothers in court?

Pilon is a bit clunky with her economics, but there isn’t much of that – fortunately. The rest of the book is carefully researched, fascinating in the details of the history – and a total page-turner when it comes to the Anspach court case. Definitely recommended – even if you correctly think Monopoly that is a pretty creaky old game.

UK: Amazon Blackwell’s

US: Amazon Powell’s

My NEW book How To Make The World Add Up is COMING SOON. Details, and to order on Hive, Blackwells, Amazon or Watersones. Stephen Fry comments, “Fabulously readable, lucid, witty and authoritative.”

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