"The Monopolists" reveals the unknown story of how Monopoly came into existence, the reinvention of its history by Parker Brothers and multiple media outlets, the lost female originator of the game, and one man's lifelong obsession to tell the true story about the game's questionable origins.Read more...
"The Monopolists" reveals the unknown story of how Monopoly came into existence, the reinvention of its history by Parker Brothers and multiple media outlets, the lost female originator of the game, and one man's lifelong obsession to tell the true story about the game's questionable origins.
Most think it was invented by an unemployed Pennsylvanian who sold his game to Parker Brothers during the Great Depression in 1935 and lived happily--and richly--ever after. That story, however, is not exactly true. Ralph Anspach, a professor fighting to sell his Anti-Monopoly board game decades later, unearthed the real story, which traces back to Abraham Lincoln, the Quakers, and a forgotten feminist named Lizzie Magie who invented her nearly identical Landlord's Game more than thirty years before Parker Brothers sold their version of Monopoly. Her game--underpinned by morals that were the exact opposite of what Monopoly represents today--was embraced by a constellation of left-wingers from the Progressive Era through the Great Depression, including members of Franklin Roosevelt's famed Brain Trust.
A fascinating social history of corporate greed that illuminates the cutthroat nature of American business over the last century, "The Monopolists" reads like the best detective fiction, told through Monopoly's real-life winners and losers.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-12-22
- Reviewer: Staff
With more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie mystery, reporter Pilon reveals the tumultuous history of Monopoly, the iconic board game first created by Elizabeth Magie to draw attention to the economic theories of Henry George (a 19th-century politician and economist who advocated that land was not meant to be seized and couldn’t be owned). Pilon chronicles the game’s evolution through pop culture, including its crucial adoption by Quakers in Atlantic City, and the fervent players who modified the game to include local landmarks such as Ventnor Avenue and Boardwalk. The product then fell into the hands of an unemployed Charles Darrow, who patented it; Parker Brothers propagated his rags-to-riches story as though he were the originator of the game. To add to the drama, Pilon also relates the story of Ralph Anspach’s Anti-Monopoly, a game designed to present a different point of view, which Parker Brothers went out of its way to squash (including a very public burial of 40,000 copies of Anspach’s version). Dry concepts such as brand identity and copyright are deftly woven to create a compelling and seamless story that many readers will find more entertaining than the game itself. Agent: Deborah Schneider, The Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Behind America's boardgame
There it is, right at the beginning of the rules pamphlet included with our family’s well-worn Monopoly game. “In 1934, Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, presented a game called Monopoly to the executives of Parker Brothers.” Sounds simple enough. But as Mary Pilon shows in The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, the road to fame for Monopoly was circuitous.
For decades, the “inventor” of Monopoly was purported to be Darrow—a Depression-era unemployed salesman who drew up a board representing Atlantic City properties. “There was only one problem,” Pilon writes, with a journalist’s directness: “The story wasn’t exactly true.”
So what was true? Pilon gets to the bottom of the case with the quixotic tale of an economics professor who invented a game he called Anti-Monopoly and ended up battling Parker Brothers in court for 10 years. It’s a fascinating history, with featured roles for a group of Quakers and a turn-of-the-century feminist named Lizzie Magie, and side trips to a Delaware utopian community, Parker Brothers’ headquarters in Salem, Massachusetts, and, of course, Atlantic City.
As for the “obsession, fury, and scandal” promised in the subtitle, it sounds like just another night of Monopoly in many households. But rest assured, there’s plenty of turmoil in this readable book. Read it, and the next time you’re circling the board with your Scottish terrier you’ll have a deeper understanding of Monopoly’s enduring popularity.