Cover Image: The Devil's Playbook

The Devil's Playbook

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Member Reviews

This is a hard review to write, because while the topic was good, the book was too dense. I started and stopped this book about a dozen times. It was just TOO Much to try to comprehend in one sitting. Further, there was just too much information, too many names, people, places, to try to keep track of.
While I learned how JUUL got its start and the founders, it was just TOO MUCH!
Further, after Altria purchased JUUL, or a big stake in JUUL, it seemed that the book glossed over important information.
Also, the author introduces people and then we never hear from them again...this happened time and again....the Juul nation instagrammer...what became of him, the first 16 year old in Wisconsin who was hospitalized, what happened to this person or this person....never was addressed.

Overall, if you would like to spend about 15 hours reading about JUUL and the mountain they climbed to get to the top of the ecigarette market, this book is for you.

IF you want to save yourself some time here is the gist of the book...JUUL marketed to kids with unique flavors, no oversight, and exploded onto the market. Altria (who manufactures Marlboro cigarettes) came in bought 40% of JUUL and then the FDA began to regulate JUUL. Now JUUL is on the downhilll slope.
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Lauren Etter’s book The Devil’s Paybook appealed to me on so many levels. First, it has been compared to John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood, which told the story of a major clusterf^&k involving a Silicon Valley startup with some wacko and very greedy people trying to completely change how something extremely important (blood tests) is done. The subtitle tells it all about Ms. Etter’s book: Big Tobacco, Juul, and the Addiction of a New Generation. 

Both Mr. Carreyrou and Ms. Etter wrote for The Wall Street Journal in the past; Ms. Etter is currently an investigative reporter for Bloomberg News. She has meticulously researched and presented the story of the e-cigarette Juul, corporate giant Phillip Morris (now known as Altria, and prominent people on both sides. 

TBH, the first part of the book was sort of a slog for me, as it was heavy on the Phillip Morris story, which is interesting but might have been edited down a bit for this story. The story of the major tobacco companies’ efforts to make profit at the expense of the health of millions is well-known. By the late 1990s, a so-called Master Settlement Agreement was reached between the tobacco companies and more than 40  state attorneys general which resulted in the companies paying billions of dollars to cover smoking-related health care costs. In addition, they committed to taking “aggressive steps to discourage young people from picking up the habit.” 

Several years after this settlement, two graduate students in product design at Stanford began working together on their final thesis project (and subsequent company), which was Juul, an electronic cigarette. Although they stated their focus was on reducing harm to smokers, Ms. Etter details how this turned out to be little more than a clever marketing line attached to a very aggressive company with the same financial goal as a tobacco company. 

So, this is the story of two companies, but it is bigger than that, as it looks at how Silicon Valley really operates: once Juul was up and running, they emulated other companies in rushing into new markets without regard for either rules or people. The greed, capitalism, and policy failures of Juul are classic and the story of the company’s founders is fascinating, similar to the path of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos (the blood-testing fraud) — although she has a much better chance of going to jail and they ended up rich, while she lost everything. 

Both Juul and Phillip Morris/Altria were locked in an epic battle, and both companies’ eyes were on the financial reward…but neither could have anticipated the sudden outbreak of vaping-linked deaths that destroyed Juul’s value (although Juul’s founders, board members, and employees walked away with a boatload of cash). It’s a detailed story, filled with interesting tidbits that will be appreciated by readers in the areas of business, stories of corporate rise and fall, and especially anyone with an interest in Silicon Valley. Thanks to Crown Publishing and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for this honest review. Four stars.
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The Devil's Playbook by Lauren Etter is a superb read which will keep you engrossed and turning pages at a rapid rate until the very last one.
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