Toy Wars:

The Epic Struggle Between G. I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them

by G. Wayne Miller

In 1992, Miller, a staff writer at the Providence Journal-Bulletin, began a biography of the all-American toy soldier, G. I. Joe, with the cooperation of Hasbor, Joe's Rhode Island-based maker. What Miller found was a much bigger story: the Power Ranger-like battle for toy supremacy between Hasbro and Mattel, with additional firepower provided by such allies as Disney, Marvel Comics and DreamWorks SKG. Miller is a shrewd writer who wrings every ounce of drama from his five-year behind-the-scenes account.

His point of view is mainly from inside Hasbro's bunker, but he casts an unsparing eye on his host's corporate turmoils, including downsizing, wooing and winning (Milton Bradley and Kenner), and in 1995 nearly falling to the aggressive courtship of arch-rival Mattel. Miller follows three generations of the Hassenfeld family from pencil boxes to Mr. Potato Head to G.I. Joe. But amazingly, even more interesting than the toys are the businessmen, especially the Hassenfeld brothers: Stephen, who died of AIDS in 1989 and Alan, his somewhat reluctant successor as Hasbro's CEO. With Miller's eye for detail and nuance, there are no empty suits here. But then, with material like the endless series of meetings to shore up the fading G. I. Joe ("every penny saved on a joint was another penny for muscle"), a good war correspondent could hardly miss.

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