Book News: Speaking Engagements

Maybe it’s time to say something about the book again. I’ve been invited to give a few talks recently – some have already happened, and some coming soon. Thanks to those who have invited me – the ones so far have been very rewarding (for me at least).

Car Free Day was an event sponsored by WPIRG in September. They invited me to speak at the outdoor event in Victoria Park and also at the University. Speaking outside with a small audience is difficult – the surrounding noise makes it feel as if you are shouting at people sitting a few feet from you. If you weren’t there to hear me, I don’t think you missed anything. The University event was better, with about 20 people there and some good discussion afterwards. Most interesting was a comment about an intriguing high-tech public bicycle system in Lyon named Velo’v, which seems to be a big success according to a Guardian article reprinted here.

Kitchener NDP recently hosted Peggy Nash, a new MP for Parkdale- High Park in Toronto. I was very impressed. She spoke for 45 minutes with no notes on a wide variety of topics, from a recent fact-finding visit to Lebanon to the ins and outs of Parliamentary committees and was obviously smart and very well informed. I was asked to present her with a copy of my book as a thank you for the visit, which was a privilege.

After the meeting I met two philosophy profs from the University of Waterloo. Dave DeVidi is  using No One Makes You… in a Decision Theory course, and Tim Kenyon may be using it next year in a Critical Thinking course.

In a week and a half I’ll be speaking as part of a panel at an event at York University named Social Justice: From Rhetoric to Action put on by the Centre for Social Justice.  The programme is still in a draft form – I’ll post more when it gets closer. It’s a challenge to condense a piece of the book into an edible-sized chunk for talks, but  I think I’m slowly getting better at it.

Finally, I’m an invited speaker next month in an Engineering and Society course that is being run at McMaster University as part of the Peace Studies program. It is called "War and Natural Resources: The Case of Oil" which is being run by Graeme MacQueen and Jack Santa Barbara. I’m sure the course is a fascinating one – I just hope I can hold people’s interest.

One trouble with writing a book that covers quite a wide range of topics is that you don’t get to give the same talk twice — transit, social justice, and warfare. But the best way to learn more about something is to tell others about it, so this has been very rewarding.

“How’s the Book Doing?” Entrails and Tea Leaves

Having a book published has turned me into a brain addled validation junkie.

I’m sure that when Margaret Atwood or Malcolm Gladwell release a book they have a lot of work to do – book signings, tours, interviews, and so on. But when you’re a no name author those kind of events just don’t make much sense for anyone – publisher, author, or bookstore. And book sales are notoriously difficult to track: just because a bookstore has ordered the book doesn’t mean a reader has actually bought it, so those copies may just be sitting on a shelf, waiting to be returned. So there is something of a void.

"How’s the book doing?" people ask, and while (on the advice of LS) I usually respond optimistically, the truth is I have no idea. What, anyway, would be good and what would be bad? I mean, being invited on the Daily Show or appearing on the New York Times bestseller list would be unambiguously good, but below that it’s just a matter of what my expectations are. Is 1,000 copies good?  10,000? Who is to say? And as it’s my first time around at this particular game, I have no expectations whatsoever. So LS is right in her advice: the optimistic response is better than the blank stare and shrug of the shoulders that I would otherwise give.

In this void of information, any and all scraps are welcome to the starved author. The internet, of course, is a vast source of entrails and tea leaves that have to be prodded, scried (?) and stirred to reveal their Nostradamus-clear prophecies. But something is better than nothing so, data addict that I am, I autogoogle and troll for all those scraps it provides.

Here, then, are some of the nicer-smelling entrails I have found so far (in addition to those I’ve mentioned earlier in this weblog).

That someone would pick up your book and read it is a great compliment. If they reach the end, more so. If they actually put finger to keyboard to say something about it, then that’s very heartwarming indeed. I’ve got lots of great feedback from friends, but there is of course every reason for the sceptical author to suspect these people of gilding the lilly a bit when they tell me what a fine book it is. Not that I’m ungrateful, you understand – far from it. Bring on those compliments! I just reserve my judgement sometimes.

So particular thanks goes to people I don’t know. People like Persephone, who wrote this in answer to one of those book Q&A topics  that go around the weblogs.

8. One book you are currently reading?

No-One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart
by Tom Slee. Well, actually I finished it a while ago, but I’m still
paging through it thinking about the arguments he presents. It’s very
provocative. Out of all these books, read that one first.

I can tell you, that makes great reading. Thanks a million Persephone – you are indeed a sage. Other recent weblog mentions include the Relentlessly Progressive Economics blog and the Danish Observations and Stories, who both reproduce a bit from my online excerpt. Thanks to both of them.

Then there are people who use the title for their own purposes. Kerry Howley is assistant editor of Reason Online, the libertarian-capitalist online magazine. Her article "Has Wal-Mart Peaked?" argues that Wal-Mart’s recent setbacks  in Germany and Korea may be a harbinger of troubles to come for the beast of Bentonville, and that those who fear Wal-Mart may therefore be worrying without reason.  She says…

The fear Wal-Mart inspires is nicely encapsulated in the title of Tom Slee’s recent book No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart: The Deception of Personal Choice. Slee argues that Wal-Mart is a scourge we bring upon ourselves by
forsaking the good of the community for the false idol of individual
choice. But it was the individual choices of individual consumers in
Germany and South Korea that sent Wal-Mart packing.

I don’t actually disagree with her on this. Wal-Mart’s global dominance is certainly not a foregone conclusion, as (among others) the Guardian recently mentioned its less-than-stellar progress with Asda in the UK, speculating that Wal-Mart may be too American to succeed globally. I don’t think that weakens my book, mind you.

Another libertarian who has (more deliberately) helped to promote the book is the open-minded Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution, who said this in a recent post about a story I pointed him to.

Thanks to Tom Slee for the pointer.  I hope to say more about his interesting new book, No one Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart, in the future.   Contrary to the title it’s about how markets fail, not a defense of Wal-Mart!

Whether or not he does say more (and I hope he does, of course, but hey, he’s a busy guy), here is the effect on my main web site of that one little mention (click for a clearer image).


Of course, I track my sales on (I haven’t been tracking them on .ca and yet, but there’s time for that to start.) During August my ranking has been bouncing around between 60,000 and 300,000 (probably 60,000 means someone has bought a copy, and 300,000 means no one has bought one for a while). Here is what the graph looks like (from my Zohosheet); a low point is a good thing. Not very legible I fear, but this is about as clear as I can make it – right click and choose View Image to see it more clearly.

Amazon Sales Ranking -

Another fine thing is that you get to mix with eminent neighbours. I get a kick out of looking in bookstores and libraries at who is next to me on the shelves. At a local store, philosopher Peter Singer (The Way We Eat) of Animal Liberation fame is my neighbour. At the local library, Anthony Giddens (Runaway World) is right next door. In the online list of Working for Change resources at the University of Victoria I’m hanging out with Vandana Shiva, author of Biopiracy. This is all pretty cool.

And that’s about it I think. Or wait, maybe someone has mentioned the book in the last twenty minutes. Wait a sec, I’ll just check google again……

No? Oh well. Maybe again….

Update: apparently if you can write about sex with some panache, then going to the book store is far more rewarding (not safe for work!). Good for her.

Update again: I assumed  Kerry Howley was  a he. Wrong. I’ve corrected the references above; thanks to David Weigel for putting me right.

I wish…

No idea who this is, except he calls himself "Psychomike". He must have some information about book sales that I don’t have….

There is even a book out now, NO ONE MAKES YOU SHOP AT WAL-MART: THE DECEPTION OF PERSONAL CHOICE. It’s by Tom Slee, and it has become the rallying cry for liberal city councils all over the nation.

Link: – fresh links daily.

Book Review in Winnipeg Free Press

Thanks to MC for letting me know about this. From Sunday’s Winnipeg Free Press:

A different take on consumer power

Sunday, July 30th, 2006. Reviewed by Lindsey Wiebe

make choices every day," writes Ontario author Tom Slee. "We choose the
clothes we wear, the way we travel, the movies we watch, and the places
we shop."

But even with all this choice, Slee says, the rich are getting richer, while the middle class and poor are losing ground.

"What has gone wrong?" he asks in this thought-provoking mix of academic and social critique.

"Why is it that with more choices than any in society in history, we do not get what we want?"

These basic questions form the underpinnings of this first book by the Waterloo software professional and researcher.

it, Slee explores the pitfalls of a free-market economy; in particular,
what he refers to as "MarketThink," the idea that consumers control the
market, and can hold corporations accountable.

Slee does his
best to debunk this mindset, arguing that even the most reasonable of
individual decisions can produce negative results for the general

Much of the book revolves around the fictional foibles of Jack and Jill, who live in the made-up town of Whimsley.

Slee uses the characters to illustrate the routine conflicts between personal and public gain.

Jack support a downtown department store, or visit a newly opened
big-box development? And does it really matter if Jill leaves litter in
a public park, when surely others will be more environmentally

No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart also draws on
real-world examples of difficult choices, tackling everything from the
issue of herd mentality to the problem of "free-riders," those who act
in their own best interests while assuming, often mistakenly, that
others will work for the public good.

Slee’s reasoning is
persuasive, and his examples numerous and far-reaching: the contentious
subject of international pollution credits, for one, or the perennial
public vs. private school debate.

But although No One Makes You
Shop at Wal-Mart is more accessible than the average academic text, it
still falls short of mass-market appeal, and those unfamiliar with game
theory might find some sections slower than others.

pacing is often sluggish, and the overall arrangement of material feels
unfocused. The sheer number of examples to deconstruct is also a little
daunting, an ironic flaw in a book about the dilemmas of choice.

Slee may have been better off focusing on fewer but more detailed examples to plead his case.

the positive side, Slee’s in-text citations are clear and easy to
follow, and readers hoping to learn more about the complexities of
decision-making will come out with a solid list of followup books.

One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart doesn’t qualify as light summer reading.
However, the book does offer an intriguing critique of dominant ideas
on consumer power, and puts forward a valid argument for the benefits
of collective decision-making and regulation.

Lindsey Wiebe is a Free Press reporter.

bytech is a discerning individual

Doing one of my periodic googles for the book title, I came across this post by one "bytech" on a webmasters’ forum. Obviously a Manitoban of taste and insight.

Originally Posted by blind2web:

"Nobody forces American or British companies to move to low cost countries; these decisions are made in Britain and America by Britains and Americans. "

bytech says: "While I agree with you, there is a hook to this. I discovered it after reading "No One Makes You Shop At Wal-Mart". It put a whole new meaning to the word "choice"… I’d recommend the book to almost anyone. You’ll see your life from there-on in a whole new way."

Thank you bytech!

Link: Indian Webmasters – Page 2 – Webmaster Forum.

Book Review in This Magazine

This Magazine reviews No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart in its July/August 2006 edition. Here is what This has to say:

In our free society, even socially and economically progressive outlooks buy into the notion of personal consumer choice. Don’t like Wal-Mart’s labour practices? If that’s the case, they say, vote with your feet and shop somewhere else. But, ironically, this belief reinforces the unrealistically simplified world view Tom Slee calls MarketThink — the philosophical bedrock of capitalism — which claims that rational choices will always lead to good outcomes. By examining the complications arising from the choices we make, Slee shows that free choice is actually a deception, and that instead of consistently achieving the best results, a society based on individual choice will often collectively experience negative outcomes, such as, ironically, a limit to the amount of choice we are offered. The solution? In framing the ideas of social philosophers and economists in an accessible way that brings the philosophical to the realm of the practical, Slee makes a solid case for collective action in a world of choice that is inherently interconected, putting to shame the simplistic assumptions of the free market world view. — Vladi Ivanov

Update: The review is now online.