Journalist and game inventor Walsh presents a lovely tribute to the unsung heroes who brought us the classic toys that have enchanted millions.
This large-format, colorful book on the genesis of particularly successful toys fuses the captivating weirdness of the Guinness Book of World Records with the fine explication of The Way Things Work. First, Walsh lays out a few parameters: the toys had to be over ten years old, they had to sell in the tens of millions and up, they had to be developed outside the mega-toy companies--this is a salute to the entrepreneur--and the inventor had to be known (thus no tops or jacks). Walsh's house of marvels starts with the dawn of the 20th century and the Flexible Flyer, continuing on to the Beanie Babies. This is human-interest territory, for the inventors were often misfits who worked in their garage or had a sudden inspiration that would be their one-and-only contribution to toyland. The enthusiastic text complements the handsome photography, and Walsh isn't afraid to traipse into the psychology of toys--the vulnerability of Raggedy Andy, the scent of a Crayola--or explore the radical politics that led to the Landlord's Game (a precursor of Monopoly): "a practical example of the immorality of rent gouging, land monopolies and other corporate monopolies." He offers the goods on the inventor of the Slinky, who ran away from his family to join a Bolivian religious cult; the bawdy roots of Barbie; and the first Super Ball, which surprised even the inventor, Norm Stingley: "as soon as I opened the mold this stuff immediately tried to get out and tore itself to pieces." When it comes to the enigmatic Rubik's Cube, Walsh gives no solutions away--but then maybe he couldn't, since it's the purlieu of abstract group theory and presents 43 quintillion wrong combinations. So don't feel bad.
A worthy, fascinating, and overdue tip of the hat to toymakers who have made so many so happy.