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Publisher's Summary

Drawing on unprecedented interviews with former Wal-Mart executives and a wealth of staggering data - such as that Americans spend $36 million an hour at Wal-Mart stores - this is an intimate look at a business that is dramatically reshaping the American economy.

Wal-Mart is not only the world's largest company; it is also the largest company in the history of the world. Though 70 percent of Americans now live within a 15-minute drive of a Wal-Mart store, we have not even begun to understand the true power of the company and the many ways it is shaping American life. We know about the lawsuits and the labor protests, but what we don't know is how profoundly the "Wal-Mart effect" is shaping our lives.

Fast Company senior editor Fishman, whose revelatory cover story on Wal-Mart generated the strongest reader response in the history of the magazine, takes us on an unprecedented behind-the-scenes investigative expedition deep inside the many worlds of Wal-Mart. Fishman penetrated the secrecy of Wal-Mart headquarters, interviewing 25 high-level ex-executives. He journeyed into the world of a host of Wal-Mart's suppliers to uncover how the company strong-arms even the most established brands. And he journeyed to the ports and factories, the fields and forests where Wal-Mart's power is warping the very structure of the world's market for goods.

Wal-Mart is not just a retailer anymore, Fishman argues. It has become a kind of economic ecosystem, and anyone who wants to understand the forces shaping our world today must understand the company's hidden reach.

©2006 Charles Fishman (P)2006 Tantor Media Inc.

Critic Reviews

"In the end, Fishman sees Wal-Mart as neither good nor evil, but simply a fact of modern life that can barely be comprehended, let alone controlled." (Publishers Weekly) "He brings to light the serious repercussions that are occurring as consumers and suppliers have become locked in an addiction to massive sales of cheaper and cheaper goods." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Gilroy, CA, United States
  • 05-01-06

Excellent, Balanced View

I'd read the article Fishman wrote in Wired a couple years back, so I was interested to learn more. The book was a nice, balanced look into what makes Wal-Mart tick, and some of the repercussions of their single minded drive to lower prices. While I was interested in the subject, I'm more of a fiction book reader, so I wasn't sure if I'd stick with a long non fiction book on business. Surprisingly, it went by fairly quickly, kept my interest the whole time.
If you're a Wal-Mart hater, you'll find ammunition in there, especially with regards to cheap salmon and gallon jars of Vlasic pickles. If you're a hard core capitalist, you'll appreaciate the fact that shopping at Wal-Mart saves many, many families a good deal of money due to their focus on lowered prices.

By chance, I listened to this soon after after re-reading "Atlas Shrugged". It made for some interesting mental comparisons.

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kenneth
  • Port Charlotte, FL, USA
  • 01-06-08


Since I work at Walmart I have found this book so interesting. I am only half way though it and am captured by all the ways in which Walmart started. I also know the day to day routine of Walmart so I am hoping the last half of the book will detail my daily life. As with all jobs it's a 50/50 kind of place to work, I am thankful they hired me since I am an older person but find they are all talk and no action. I hope more will listen to this book and learn from it. I have also purchased the book for my hearing impaired friends to read....

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • Staunton, VA, USA
  • 05-08-06

Nothing you probably don't already know

This was a very good book. Entertaining and informative... though a little repetitive at times. Never boring, a few too many percentages and numbers to keep in mind... but overall gives a great perspective into how Wal-Mart is effecting the world.... hence the title.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ian
  • Oxford Mills, ON, Canada
  • 11-20-06

Good overview

This is a good history of Wal-Mart from the early days in Arkansas as a down-market discount store, through its rise. Even in the late 80s, retail analysts predicted continued dominance by Sears and K-Mart. Now as #1, its the winner everyone loves to hate.

I agree with other reviews here that the later chapters show a lot of anti-Wal-Mart bias. But the book is a good history, that describes how Wal-Mart works, its effects on suppliers, and covers criticism right up to the recent "poverty effect" papers of 2005.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 03-03-15


I must admit up front that I have never been in a Wal-Mart store and there is no Wal-Mart store anywhere near where I live. My second disclaimer is I absolutely hate to shop; I rush in and obtain the items I need and rush out of the store. Since the 1960 I have made it a mission of mine to buy products made in the United States even if I have to pay more or do without if I cannot find products made in the United State or Canada.

Fishman has done extensive research for this book. He has drawn on unprecedented interviews with former Wal-Mart executives; pursued a wealth of business and economic data and has created an interesting look at the corporation.

Fishman states the story of Wal-Mart is really the story of the transformation of the American economy over the past twenty years. Fishman presents a case for Wal-Mart (mostly consumer benefit) and against Wal-Mart. Fishman puts the reader inside the company’s penny-pinching mindset and shows how Wal-Mart’s mania to reduce prices has driven suppliers into bankruptcy and sent factory jobs overseas.

The “Wal-Mart effect” has become a common phase in the vocabulary of economists, and includes a broad range of effects, such as forcing local competitors out of business, driving down wages, and keeping inflation low and productivity high. Fishman discusses the replacement of quality with cheapness. The author sees Wal-Mart as neither good nor evil, but simply a fact of modern life. I enjoyed the fact he told stories and named the product and or company he spoke of to demonstrate the good or bad effect. I found the afterword the most important part of the book.

The book is well written and well organized. Fishman has made the book understandable and easy to read. Alan Sklar narrated the book.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well Written

Changed my view on Wal-Mart. Now I still believe WalMart is somewhat evil, but at the same time is only a product of capitalism. WalMart isn't all bad, and has most likely been a benefit to an American's quality of life.
It was not an extremely biased view of walmart, either positive or negative, the author merely did his best to explain how walmart does business based on some very specific examples.
This book confirmed for me that there are items that are OK to buy at walmart and others that are not.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kenneth
  • LEESBURG, VA, United States
  • 12-07-06

Must Read for all Serious Students of Business

In the last quarter of the 20th century there were 2 larger than life business stories. One was Microsoft and the other was WallMart. The fact that they used almost opposite strategies for almost everything is fascinating. In the end the similarities seem no deeper then that they both developed some degree of monopoly power and both were unsure how to use that power. Also both are polarizing companies.

As a business practitioner, the book also contains some very useful examples of the death sentence that the market place will imposed on you if you chase every possible sales with no clear strategy.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Elliot
  • Gulf Coast of Texas
  • 07-17-06

Buy This Book

Intriguing and thought-provoking. Regardless of how one feels about this massive retailer, its place in the global business community and its effect on our culture are undeniable. Whether a driving force on culture or merely a reflection of sociological change, the book provides significant food for thought and conversation. Well worth the time.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

When Wal-Mart Moves In

We are currently facing a Wal-Mart Super Center invasion in our town. At first, I thought it would be nice to have a Wal-Mart near by--nearer than the three other Wal-Marts which are each 20 minutes away. But after listening to this book, I changed my mind.

Even if you're not a mathematician, the author presents the data in perfectly, logical and understandable ways. The real-world examples of how company's benefit ("Makin' Bacon") and suffer (Huffy bicycles) because of Wal-Mart is eye-opening.

Both the examples and numbers are staggering! And they're non-stop! The comprehensive facts and figures in this book will leave you with your jaw on the floor. For instance, Wal-Mart sells more goods by St. Patrick's Day than Target, its nearest competitor, will sell all year!

Like a previous reviewer states, this book is a very balanced presentation. However, what seemed obvious to me is that the good that Wal-Mart apparently does, eventually leads to bad things. The way Wal-Mart permeates everything in the that's not an makes Ma Bell pale in comparison. Why Wal-Mart isn't investigated as a monopoly is beyond me...just my opinion.

I cannot praise Charles Fishman enough. Listening to this book took more than 9 felt like 9 minutes. Everyone should get a copy of the "Wal-Mart Effect", whether you shop at Wal-Mart or not. Think of this book as the cheapest class you can take to become a truly informed consumer. Learn all about how the retail industry operates...or rather how Wal-Mart forces the retail industry to operate.

Long and short of it is, for or against Wal-Mart, if you listen to this book, you will NEVER look at Wal-Mart the same way again.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Just Ok

A very light and superficial approach to the "Wal-Mart phenomenon". Gets into some of the history and mindset of this company, but avoids tough topics such as unfair competition, the encouragement of "economic cheaters" such as China (a country which cheats on environmental pollution, social obligations, intellectual property, etc.), and the addiction of American shoppers to "conspicuous consumption". A good introduction to Wal-Mart, but very light. Also, the sycophantic demeanor of the author does get boring after a while.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful