The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and how it's Transforming the American Economy

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Largest Company Really Works–and how it’s Transforming the American Economy

Author’s Note: This might seem like an odd book to review given the fact that it came out almost a decade ago. However, when it came time for me to read my 100th book of the year, successfully completing my Goodreads reading challenge, this was an easy choice for that book.
This book holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the very first books I ever bought from Audible back in May of 2006. I bought it because the city where I live, Huron, South Dakota was two months away from getting a Wal-Mart.
I will spoil the review slightly by saying that I enjoy the book and revisit it every couple of years.




Thankfully, the book about the Wal-Mart Effect is not as hard to understand as the real Wal-Mart Effect.


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.


The first thing to note about ‘The Wal-Mart Effect’ is that the book is now several years old and according to this Forbes list of the World’s Largest Companies Wal-Mart is not even in the top 10. Still, Wal-Mart is such a unique company because of its industry that a lot of what the book has to say is still as thought provoking as it ever was.
The book strives to define what exactly the Wal-Mart Effect actually is. That includes: how the opening of a new Wal-Mart impacts a local economy, how the relentless quest to keep costs down impacts suppliers, how the scale of Wal-Mart has an impact on the environment and so much more.
This is not so much a complete history of the company as much as it is a recap of everything that has happened since the death of Sam Walton and how Sam Walton’s beliefs still carry great weight in the company to this day. The book contains some amazing statistics that are astonishing to consider and hard to comprehend. In the retail industry, Wal-Mart is not simply a juggernaut, it is the juggernaut of all juggernauts.
The book does a good job of examining how Wal-Mart views itself and how that contrasts with how most people, even those who regularly shop at Wal-Mart, view the company. It is hard to find an average person with a genuine affection for Wal-Mart, and part of that is because the company does not go out of the way to be loved. When Wal-Mart cuts down on waste and that reduction has a positive impact on the environment, the company does not often let that story be told. Even if it would help the perception of Wal-Mart in the eyes of most people.
Fishman views Wal-Mart in the way that we should all view Wal-Mart but very few of us actually do. Wal-Mart is a very large company, and with large companies you are going to get some good, some bad, some ugly and some to be determined. There is no doubt that the focus on keeping costs down has gotten the company in legal trouble over the years. However, sometimes things in this area do not come out as purely black and white.
If you read this book and then go to any store you wish, walk down the deodorant isle. Look at all the rows of deodorant and try not to think of ‘The Wal-Mart Effect’ when you don’t see any Deodorant packaged in a cardboard box.


Fishman has a nice fluid writing style that is easy to follow. He does a good job of reinforcing several points throughout the book without it feeling repetitive. Fishman tries to do Wal-Mart justice. This is not a book that exclusively bashes the company, nor is it one that ignores all of the unpleasant aspects of living in a Wal-Mart world. Indeed, neither one of those books would be entirely fair.
I can definitely say that I would read more of Fishman’s work because I also own his book ‘The Big Thirst’ which I have also reviewed.


This was the first book I ever heard Alan Sklar narrate and I have enjoyed him ever since. He has a good authoritative voice that makes him ideal for nonfiction. He does put some acting into his performance, particularly in the epilogue when he is reading quotes from women who used to work in the LR Nelson factory in Illinois. There is quite a bit of emotional range to be found.
If there is one drawback, it is that Sklar can often be heard taking in gulps of air as he starts to read a passage. I’ve listened to this book multiple times over the years, but I never really noticed it until I heard the same thing in another book he narrated. Now because of that and trying to pay closer attention to these things for review purposes, I can’t help but notice it.
Fishman himself narrates the afterword and he does a solid job. If he ever narrated one of his own books from start to finish, I think I would enjoy it. He has a nice gentle quality to his speaking voice, and because the afterword is about his experience visiting Wal-Mart headquarters and interacting with Wal-Mart employees, it was a good thing he read this section of the book.


The track sounds pretty good overall. The volume level is consistent throughout. You will be able to tell that Sklar and Fishman recorded their sections in different environments, however.
There is a bit of an echo and a slight hum in the background as Fishman reads through the afterword. This is also where I found a technical glitch on the track that I had downloaded from Audible. On the tenth audio track at the 33:31 mark, a sentence begins to be read and then is repeated again at the 33:41 mark. This is an issue that will easily be correctable, as I have reported it. I’d heard it that way in the past but always neglected to remember.
Otherwise, all of the chapter stops are where you’d expect them to be. As is the norm for releases for Tantor, you will not find any music or other effects at any point on the track.


‘The Wal-Mart Effect’ does an admirable job on an impossible task. Wal-Mart is a big box store, and yet it is nearly impossible to put Wal-Mart itself into any kind of a box because of its scale. Wal-Mart impacts America’s economy and the habits of most Americans in ways that no other company could ever hope to do.
Even so, with interviews and statistics, numbers and the story behind them, Charles Fishman tells an engrossing tale of the highs and lows of being a wild success.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works–and how It’s Transforming the American Economy Charles Fishman Alan Sklar, Charles Fishman Tantor Audio Business and Economics 04/14/2006 10 hours, 27 minutes 8.75/10



4 thoughts on “The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World’s Largest Company Really Works–and how it’s Transforming the American Economy

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