Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mary Pilon's "The Monopolists"

Mary Pilon is the author of The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World's Favorite Board Game, a book about the history of the board game Monopoly (Bloomsbury, February 2015). She previously worked as a sports reporter at The New York Times and a full index of her work there can be found here, including dispatches from the London Olympics, doping coverage, features on legal and financial issues in sports and the occasional video shot from a dog sled or graphic novel about cage fighting in the heartland.

From June 2008 to November 2011, Pilon worked at The Wall Street Journal, where she covered various aspects of personal finance and the financial crisis for print and online editions and regularly appeared on national TV and radio. Among her lesser-known accomplishments: bringing slugs, yo-yos, the NYSE movie room and square dancing to the Journal’s front page.

Pilon applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Monopolists and reported the following:
The Monopolists tells the true story of the board game Monopoly through the people who lived it. For years, the story went that a man, Charles Darrow, dreamed up the game during the Great Depression, sold it to Parker Brothers, and everyone was saved from the brink of financial ruin. The true story, however is far more complex and traces to Elizabeth Magie, a left-wing woman who patented her Landlord’s Game in 1904. The game was played extensively for more than 30 years and Magie was largely lost to history until an economist accidentally unearthed the true story while engaged in a legal battle with Parker Brothers in the 1970s.

Page 99 of the book is right at the end of Chapter 7, when the reader knows that the “monopoly game” had traveled through the hands of many others just as Darrow begins to sell the game. The reader knows that Darrow, like many other players of the folk game, had tried to sell the game on his own in his hometown of Philadelphia after learning it from a friend, but it’s still unclear how he would land his deal with Parker Brothers or what fate would befall Magie.

Ironically, Darrow’s early attempts to have Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers publish the game were rejected, as revealed by the letters appearing on this page. We also learn how the game has changed since Magie’s original incarnation and that it now has bright colors, elegance and an ambitious design, some of Magie’s early homages to her hero, political economist Henry George, surviving, some vanishing. Yet during the Great Depression, those very traits (collecting money when passing Go, the railroads, the Chance question mark) could very well be read as positive takes on capitalism rather than as the critiques she had intended.
Visit Mary Pilon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue