The Monopolists

March 10, 2015 Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction, Review 22 ★★★★

The MonopolistsTitle: The Monopolists
Author: Mary Pilon
Source: NetGalley
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This was really fun narrative nonfiction, with lots of great facts to share and interesting people stories that brought the book to life.

Although Parker Brothers has always billed Monopoly as an American dream success story, invented by a family man trying to get by during the Great Depression, the truth is much less wholesome. As Ralph Anspach discovers when he tries to market a game similar to Monopoly, Parker Brothers has gone to great lengths to protect their rights to the game even though many unrecognized individuals contributed to the game’s creation. This book tells the true story of the games origins and of Ralph’s court battle with Parker Brothers.

When I started readingΒ The Monopolists, I hadn’t read the cover blurb in a while, so I was confused when we started with Ralph’s story and then suddenly the next chapter was talking about Lizzie Magie’s invention ofΒ The Landlord Game (the first precursor to Monopoly). While this was partly my fault for forgetting the blurb, ideally the text should offer enough explanation to stand on its own. Aside from this rough beginning though, the story was fantastic. I loved learning about all the people involved in the creation of Monopoly as we know it. The pictures of the board as it evolved were one of my favorite parts of the book (clearly legible even in ebook format). I also enjoyed a small digression to talk about people who played Monopoly competitively. I only played Monopoly when I was little, so learning about the amount of strategizing that can go into the game was eye-opening.

Ralph’s David-and-Goliath battle against Parker Brothers added some much needed drama to a story that sometimes started to seem like a genealogy as so-and-so taught so-and-so to play the game who taught someone else, etc. I think had the history of Monopoly been interwoven with Ralph’s investigation of the games history, instead of being told in its entirety first, this could have been a five star read for me. I find that narrative nonfiction that is structured around the author or someone else’s investigation can add immediacy to an otherwise sometimes dry history. Even so, most of the story kept me fascinated and I truly enjoyed learning the history of this well-known game. I’d recommend the book to fans of narrative nonfiction and, of course, to any fans of the game.

Do you like when authors of narrative nonfiction insert themselves into their story? And have you ever played Monopoly in a competitive, strategic way?


22 Responses to “The Monopolists”

  1. Jancee @ Jancee Reads

    I really, really dislike Monopoly. It’s long and when you start losing, it’s hard to come back. And I’m really competitive, but I always lose, so it just makes me mad. Plus, I play games to escape from reality, and Monopoly always makes me think economics, which makes me think of my own depressing finances and how hard it is to adult.

    The book sounds really good though, so I will definitely check it out!

    • DoingDewey

      According to the book, Monopoly should never take more than 90 minutes if you play by all the rules, including auctioning properties people choose not to buy, but I never have! I’ve had fun playing it some of the time, but for the most part, it’s been too long for me to. Definitely not my favorite game, but a fun story πŸ™‚

  2. Julie @ Smiling Shelves

    I’m not a huge fan of Monopoly, but this book sounds like it would be interesting. I enjoy narrative nonfiction about quirky topics. I’ve been hearing lots of good things about this book. Sounds like it may officially add it onto my TBR list.

    • DoingDewey

      Monopoly isn’t my favorite game either, but I enjoyed the book anyway. It sounds like it could be right up your alley, so I’d recommend picking it up πŸ™‚

  3. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I’m not a big fan of Monopoly, but I think finding out more of the history of the game is interesting. Especially because this is so popular. This makes me want to google the history of Clue actually, because I do love that game. πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you enjoyed this one!

  4. Lindsey

    Who would have guessed that there was so much to learn about a board game? For me, an author inserting themselves into history or nonfiction can be really hit or miss. But I see how it could have been really great in this instance!

    • DoingDewey

      I’m constantly surprised at the interesting history lurking behind everyday objects! I really like when authors of narrative nonfiction include their research in their book, but I’m less happy when they interject their own opinion. It’s nice for them to try their best to remain objective.

  5. Tara @ The Librarian Who Doesn't Say Shhh!

    I think I heard something about this on NPR the other day, and I listened to a podcast about the origin of Monopoly a while back and found it all very interesting. This sounds right up my alley — in fact, I just bought it on Audible. Thanks for this review!

  6. Jennine G.

    Definitely have to have some personal story interwoven to make it interesting. The only strategy I know I’d to get Boardwalk at all cost! Or so it seems. We have a couple editions of Monopoly, including Bookopoly, which my family would only play with me a couple times.

    • DoingDewey

      I agree. My favorite part of nonfiction is almost always the people story, whether the author’s story or someone else’s. Apparently, the most valuable properties are actually red and yellow in terms of the reward you get compared to how much they cost. This book was very educational in terms of Monopoly strategy! Bookopoly sounds like much more fun πŸ™‚ Also maybe only possible because of the lawsuit in this book, but I’m not certain of that.

    • DoingDewey

      Mine too! We ended up getting an extension on my paper and so, of course, we came up with more to do, so I’ve continued to be too busy to do as much reading as I’d have liked this month. I guess I’ll just have to revisit this on my own later.

  7. Becca Lostinbooks

    I kind of hate Monopoly. The game is never-freaking-ending. And I find it more than a little ironic that the Parker Brothers monopolized all ideas anywhere close to the game.

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, yep! Lots of irony in this one. The game isn’t my favorite either, although supposedly it’s quicker if you play by all the rules, including auctioning off properties people land on, but don’t buy. I might give it another chance having read that πŸ™‚

  8. Asti

    I don’t really ever read non-fiction, but this book caught my eye right away when I saw it on your blog just because I love Monopoly. I unfortunately haven’t been able to play it in a long time, but that’s just because everyone else I know hates the game (it takes too long, they lose, etc.). This would definitely be one of those books I would pick up to browse through in a store, though I’m not sure I’d actually buy it.

  9. Elizabeth (Silver's Reviews)

    I don’t think I ever ran across a book that has the author in the book. That sounds interesting, though.

    No on playing Monopoly in a strategic way. It is an ok game. I just do it for fun.

    Very nice review. Thanks.

    Stopping by from Carole’s Books You Loved April Edition.

    • DoingDewey

      I’ve never played Monopoly in a strategic way either, but after reading this book, I kind of want too! It sounds more fun to me that way. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate knowing you’re coming from the Books You Loved link-up, but would also appreciate it if you not leave links back to your own posts in the comment. I’m sure not everyone would agree with me on this, but to me, it feels too self-promotional. I visit everyone who comments on my blog without them sharing their own links anyway. Also, I think you should be able to link to specific posts using my Comment Luv plugin if you like, but please let me know if that isn’t working for you.

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