Books of 2015, #9: The Monopolists by Mary Pilon

Two of my primary sources for books to read turn out to be my friend Chet, and NPR.

Last Monday, I think, while driving in to work, I heard part of an interview with Mary Pilon regarding her book, which concerns itself with laying out the rather byzantine origins of the game Monopoly—and since I could just about visualize the text from the pamphlet included with the game that described how Charles Darrow single-handedly created it…I was hooked.

The tracing of its history is kind of fascinating: although there was a commercially produced version of its ancestor, The Landlord’s Game, the game of Monopoly as we know it today was treated more like samizdat, passed from person to person over a period of years, accumulating little modifications or errors in the process, before being passed to Charles Darrow who—with no money, and a permanently disabled child to try and care for in the depths of the Great Depressions—sold it to Parker Brothers.

I wonder if the fact that it was not really his to sell bothered him—I could imagine that perhaps initially he didn’t think it would become such an ubiquitous thing, and thus the scope of his crime would remain small; a few hundred dollars to help sustain his family. Or perhaps he felt that others lack of interest in making money off it left him open to do so.

What I find telling is the utterly amoral behavior that Parker Brothers displays. They had evidence that the game existed before Charles Darrow, including early competitors who told them how it came to them, and yet they were perfectly happy to direct the weight of their legal team against them to stifle competition.

In fact, the whole story is bracketed by the experience of one game creator in the early ’70s that they tried to strong-arm—although the details are, in fact, a little different from the earlier incidents—and who decided to fight back. He won, but the legal fight took 10 years, and cost him just about everything.

Ultimately, it leads me back to my firm belief that corporations are a stratagem for people to disclaim responsibility for their actions and should be strictly limited in their scope and power, because it is very hard to trust people when they do not have to suffer consequences for their actions.