Do Not Pass Go

Tim Moore

Read June 2004

Visiting a new city is at once both exciting and disorienting. When I visited London for the first time as an adult in May, 2004, I experienced only the first of these emotions, for I found the city deeply familiar. It took me a while to appreciate this strange phenomenon. I eventually traced it to Monopoly.

Growing up in what had been one of the map's pink bits, the Monopoly board I played as a child was the British one. Indeed, for lack of any other reference, my compatriots and I scarcely conceived of a board naming any other city's streets. I found the American board initially disorienting and, ultimately, unenchanting. There is romance associated with the streets of London that is simply lacking in the middling history of Atlantic City.

Tim Moore's book is a history of this British board. It is both the story of the board's creation and a modern-day exploration of those same streets, an often-nocturnal Bloom-meets-Bloomsbury random walk through the playing board. It is the story of the hasty conversion from the American version that has resulted in quirks that live on to this day, and also of the quirky lives that populate the metropolis. Moore employs a particularly smart devices during his perambulation: he carries along a phone book from the era of the board's creation, from which he is able to identify ways in which the different localities of the city have evolved.

This book has its share of the trivial, leavened with observations on urban design, with social phenomena such as the curious Mass Observation Days, and with a particularly large head of venom directed at city planner and critic Howard Clunn. Moore saves us some of the swearing and rude behavior that has characterized his other work.

Perhaps the strangest phenomenon was walking London's streets and being reminded of specific colors. The colors of Monopoly go hand-in-hand with numbers, and the numbers provide us with an initial classification of the city's regions. The board is, however, set in time, while the city is dynamic. Some streets have ``changed their colors'' in real terms, and some have even changed and then reverted. Read this loving book to appreciate all this.