Toy Wars

I finally came to the conclusion of Toy Wars by G. Wayne Miller.

The book is a journalistic but also historical account of large toy companies in America, with the primary focus being Hasbro, a Rhode Island company that has been owned by the Hassenfeld family for more than 60 years now.

This book is mainly about the latest leader of the company, Alan Hassenfeld, who tries to take the reins of the company after his business genius brother, Stephen, died of AIDS.

What I give this book credit for is that it moves nicely between ideas. There’s history, there’s financial wall street stuff, there’s water cooler talk and then back to history. This movement makes sure things don’t get boring.

Also, some of the stories here are just plain interesting. Barbie was originally a kind of sex toy for dirty German men…yea, weird. That’s why she’s so utterly nordic, or teutonic. G.I. also had an interesting history and the brand quite literally died during the 90s due to the collapse of communism. The marketers could not make a coherent “story” for G.I. Joe that would capture the interest of young kids, and one can only hear echoes of politicians at this same time seeking a narrative to justify defense spending and other defense research.

In the background of this book too is always electronics. Toys were big business, before kids started playing videogames, and the market was never the same, but this book doesn’t quite go there.

The downsides of this book is that it leaves things unresolved (the ending is just Alan Hassenfeld deciding what to do next as the head of his toy empire) and doesn’t really do a whole to unify things. It also doesn’t really attempt to ferret out interesting social connections. Some are there just because I knew so little about the area and so couldn’t be missed, but other times, you think just a little research one way or another would have opened a new avenue for thinking about things.

All in all, this is very fluffy non-fiction that dances through some new territory for the average reader.


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