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Portfolio (2015-03-03)
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Political economy


Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute

by Bissonnette, Zac

A bestselling journalist delivers the never-before-told story of the plush animal craze that became the tulip mania of the 1990s.

After the crash, investors were left in ruin. One soap opera star lost his kids’ six-figure college funds and his marriage. Products that once brought bids of $500 or more languished unsold on eBay with starting prices of $1. But it wasn’t internet stock mania or the housing bubble that ruined these investors. With his first hardcover, Zac Bissonnette tackles the astonishing rise and fall of a plush children’s toy: the Beanie Baby.

Little has been written about the Beanie Baby craze of the 1990s. A phenomenon that propelled toy mogul Ty Warner to a net worth of $5.2 billion has since left journalists and participants almost too embarrassed to address the most inane bubble of an era that was full of bubbles. But so many questions remain:
• How did Beanie Babies get so hot?
• How could a toy that was essentially lacking in innovation become such a phenomenon without any advertising or distribution through major retailers?
• Why did it crash?
• And most of all: What the hell were people thinking?

Bissonnette takes readers behind the scenes in the industry and into the homes of people who risked—and lost—everything. With the same wit and depth of research he’s shown in his previous books, he examines here what happened when millions of otherwise sane people thought that a mass-produced beanbag would be the ticket to their investment riches.

Zac Bissonnette wrote two acclaimed bestsellers before his twenty-fourth birthday: Debt-Free U and How to Be Richer, Smarter, and Better-Looking Than Your Parents. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Daily Beast,, and Mental Floss, among others, and he is the author of the humor book Good Advice from Bad People. As a contributing editor with The Antique Trader, he’s been featured as an expert in the collecting category on public radio, and he is the editor of the 2013 Warman’s Guide to Antiques & Collectibles. His 2010 story for AOL, “Kitsch and Capitalism: The Rise and Fall of Hummel Figurines,” received over a million page views.

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Bissonnette’s research into the history of speculative markets helpfully situates the Beanie phenomenon in a larger framework. The story is a Greek tragedy served with a brutal twist of American capitalism.

Review: Bookpage

The amazing story of the time the world lost its mind over little beanbag critters named Punchers, Humphrey, and Wingless Quackers. Zac Bissonnette takes us on a journey into the secretive world of the man behind the mania, Ty Warner.

Quote: Bill Dedman

Thanks to Bissonnette’s balanced and thorough reporting, the account of Ty Warner, founder of the Babies, becomes a portrait of a creator obsessed with perfection, making money in a business he loved, in a company built on his dreams.

Review: Booklist

Bissonnette (Debt-Free U) does a masterful job of tracing the rise and fall of the Beanie Baby phenomenon of the 1990s . . . This cautionary tale of elevated consumerism, with collectors fretting over what they didn’t have rather than taking pleasure in what they did, serves as a useful history lesson for today, told with wit and subtlety.

Review: Publishers Weekly

In spare, elegant prose, Zac Bissonnette tells the riveting story of how Ty Warner ruthlessly built Beanie Babies into a mania as misguided and regrettable as the 1637 Dutch tulip craze and mortgage-backed securities in 2008. You won’t be able to put this book down.

Quote: William D. Cohan

Bissonnette offers a crisp, investigative and presumably unauthorized biography of creator Ty Warner, 70, and a look at the rise of Beanie Babies and their swiftly ensuing three-year consumer craze... A spicy portrait of a taciturn toy magnate made entertaining with sensationalistic testimonial.

Review: Kirkus

Journalist Zac Bissonnette’s new book “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble” shows how Warner’s brilliance in this area created an investment bubble as unstable as — and occurring simultaneously with — the Internet stock bubble of the late 1990s.

Review: The New York Post

The spectacular story of the strangest speculative bubble there ever was and the man behind it. A must-read for anyone looking to understand how manias start and markets go insane.

Quote: Liquat Ahamed

Equally heartwarming and heartbreaking, this accessible work will captivate.

Review: Library Journal (starred)

A fresh and darkly comic look at how the rise of internet commerce went hand-in-hand with soccer moms and "irrational exuberance" to transform a cheap children's toy into a national mania and one of the greatest speculative bubbles in American history. The Great Beanie Baby Bubble will leave you shaking your head and wistfully remembering the wild, wild ride that was the late 1990s.

Quote: Tilar Mazzeo

Fascinating, strange, sad, funny, and entirely engrossing, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is a smart, engaging book that’s as much about the odd saga of these plush toys as it is about the nature of obsession and desire.

Quote: Susan Orlean

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