About Jenga: The Remarkable Business of Creating a Game that Became a Household Name is written by Jenga’s creator, Leslie Scott. The book takes readers along for the journey of how Jenga, which began as a game played by Scott and her siblings, turned into a household staple found in nearly every home. Scott gives in-depth details of what it took to make Jenga the success it is today – the celebrated triumphs, obstacles overcome, side projects that never took off – and investigates the why, exploring the scientific, cultural, linguistic, and psychological reasons that Jenga, a game seemingly so simple, took the world by storm.
Scott tells the story of Jenga in narrative form interwoven with metaphors to give deeper insight into how and why Jenga became so popular. Readers first get to learn about Scott: her family history, her character, her interests, the jobs she held — a portrait of the kind of person it takes to be a professional game designer. In this way, Scott becomes a character readers root for; in the early days we feel as hopeful for her success with Jenga as much as she was. About Jenga also includes pictures of Scott’s early life, landscapes of her childhood home in Africa, newspaper clippings, and other mementos. Scott offers advice she learned along the way, be it business, financial, life, and even advice about going into business with friends. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew Scott personally, as if she had told me Jenga’s story over a cup of tea.
About Jenga also brings readers into the world of toys and games: everything it takes to put a game on the market, from creation to marketing, patenting, publishing, and sales. Readers meet influential people in the toy world including Stephen and Alan Hassenfeld of Hasbro, George Irwin of Irwin Toy, and Bill Gerrity of Schaper as their respective companies fight for the right to produce Jenga. The obstacles of patenting, the importance of trademarking, the necessity of a brand – everything Scott learned by doing in her journey in creating Jenga, readers learn along with her.
Scott’s metaphors help break down many aspects that went into Jenga’s success. For example, to help readers understand the importance of branding, she talks scientifically of colorful fish advertising their genes for reproduction purposes, and historically of coats of arms branded into knights’ armor to distinguish one another. Through the study of linguistics, Scott explores why “Jenga,” a word she created, seems to fit the game so perfectly. About Jenga provides readers with a thorough understanding not just of why Jenga became a success, but of the human experience.
Scott does note, however (and anyone who’s played the game can attest) that Jenga’s success came primarily for one reason: it’s so much fun to play.
Julia DeKorte is a book reviewer focused on the noteworthy people and manufacturers from the toy and game industry. In addition to Toy Tales, she is a regular contributor at People of Play.