Book Review

Good news! the first review of No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart has appeared!

Bad news: it’s not what I’d call glowing.

Nevertheless, in the interests of full and fair disclosure, and gritting my teeth, I hereby reproduce the whole thing. I understand that the protocol for real authors is that you don’t criticize reviews, and I’ll do my best imitation of a real author and bite my tongue.

It’s from the June 2006 edition of Quill & Quire, p. 51.

Anyone who has tried to shepherd a child through the endless rows of toys in a department store with the proviso that only one item may be purchased knows the emotional devastation that can be wrought from the dilemma of too many choices. It’s the deceptive nature of choice in our society that provides the focal point for Tom Slee’s philosophical inquiry into how and why we do certain things, even when our decisions conflict with our moral compass.

Slee, a research scientist and software professional, is intrigued by the notion that a society marketing itself as full of wondrous choices is nonetheless marked by a happiness quotient that’s in continual decline.

We do have choices, from whether or not to smoke, drive vehicles with poor safety records, eat foods high in trans fats, or buy certain brands of shoes and clothing. But Slee wonders whether those choices are determined by free will or are driven by a hidden hand, a cultural subtext that provides only the illusion of freedom.

To illustrate his points, Slee creates a number of scenarios in the fictitious community of Whimsley, where Jack and Jill deal with issues such as the conflict between shopping in a suburban big box or supporting downtown independent stores, or the pros and cons of using lawyers during a divorce. All of these things, Slee argues, involve different levels of choice, and in some situations, a lack of choice actually results in a better outcome. He also explores the world of game theory with respect to choice, and analyzes the role of what he calls MarketThink — the logic of the so-called free market that has driven economics for the past few decades (also known as globalization or corporate control).

Unfortunately, Slee’s approach is often difficult to follow as he tries to piece together these various strands. It’s almost as if Slee falls victim to having too many choices with regard to settling on a writing style, making for an uneven text that could have benefited from more coherence and continuity. Slee also makes numerous references to the notion of collective action as an alternative to MarketThink, but this thesis is never really developed, leaving the reader wondering why Slee chose not to explore what seems like a logical conclusion to the book’s central issue. – Matthew Behrens, a writer and editor in Toronto.

Oddly enough, I actually knew Mr. Behrens slightly many years ago.

How could this review be rephrased? how about this?

emotional … philosopical … moral.

Oh well. On to the next one!

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  1. I think Mr. Behrens must have had a lot on his mind when reading the book. One or two scenarios took a double read, but for me that is standard even with the lightest of texts…

  2. Thanks for your endorsement bytech. I’m glad not everyone finds it difficult to follow.

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