The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power

Deirdre Mask. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-13478-3
Journalist Mask’s entertaining and wide-ranging debut investigates the history of street addresses and their “power to decide who counts, who doesn’t, and why.” A vivid storyteller, Mask describes the “multisensory maps” ancient Romans used to navigate their city and the origins of street names in medieval England (Frying Pan Alley was home to ironmongers; Booty Lane was “named either after bootmakers, Viking booty, or the Booty family”). Shifting from the historical record to the modern world, Mask documents efforts to assign street addresses in the slums of Kolkata, India, and takes readers to Japan, where cities are organized by blocks and the absence of street names makes navigation challenging. Other topics include the origins of the modern postal system, digital addresses of the future, and the difficulties faced by homeless people in an era when a home address is “a way for society to check that you are not just a person but the person you say you are.” Mask’s fluid narration and impressive research uncover the importance of an aspect of daily life that most people take for granted, and she profiles a remarkable array of activists, historians, and artists whose work intersects with the evolution and meaning of street addresses. This evocative history casts its subject in a whole new light. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/15/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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