In The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game, reporter Pilon reveals the tumultuous history of Monopoly, the world-famous board game first created by Lizzie Magie to promote the economic theories of Henry George, but more often credited as the brainchild of Charles Darrow, an unemployed man struggling to feed his family in the midst of the Great Depression.
What drew you to the story?
It came to me by accident. In 2009 I was at the Wall Street Journal, about to write a story for the paper about the economic downturn and thought I’d open with Monopoly, because it’s a financial icon that everybody knows was created during the Great Depression. I started looking around and it wasn’t adding up. I’d heard about Ralph Anspach’s lawsuit. So I called him and said I was researching the history of Monopoly. And he said, “I’ve waited for years!” and started talking.
Why is the game so popular to this day?
One of the things I find funny about Monopoly is that there are all these things we project onto it. I think it’s endured because it’s so ubiquitous and can be so many things to so many people. Also, it brings out so many things in people that you didn’t know were there. My grandmother, who was a polite, petite churchgoing mother of four was a completely different person when she played Monopoly.
One point you make in the book is that a lot of families have their own version of the game, which is similar to the way the game originated.
That’s ironic, because a lot of people don’t realize that. People will get into arguments about house rules they’ve developed.
Do you still enjoy playing Monopoly?
I do, but for different reasons. I used to enjoy it as a fun game, but now I have a totally different connection to it. I’m probably a terrible person to play Monopoly with, like touring a city with a tour guide.
What token do you choose?
As a child, I played as the dog to reflect my love of animals. But now I play as the iron because as part of a publicity effort, Hasbro allowed fans to vote the poor thing out of the conventional Monopoly set. Now one of the oldest tokens has Charlie Brown status and I feel oddly obligated to use it, when available, as a show of solidarity.