Finalist for the 2020 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction | One of Time Magazines's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020 | Longlisted for the 2020 Porchlight Business Book Awards
"An entertaining quest to trace the origins and implications of the names of the roads on which we reside." —Sarah Vowell, The New York Times Book Review
When most people think about street addresses, if they think of them at all, it is in their capacity to ensure that the postman can deliver mail or a traveler won’t get lost. But street addresses were not invented to help you find your way; they were created to find you. In many parts of the world, your address can reveal your race and class.
In this wide-ranging and remarkable book, Deirdre Mask looks at the fate of streets named after Martin Luther King Jr., the wayfinding means of ancient Romans, and how Nazis haunt the streets of modern Germany. The flipside of having an address is not having one, and we also see what that means for millions of people today, including those who live in the slums of Kolkata and on the streets of London. Filled with fascinating people and histories, The Address Book illuminates the complex and sometimes hidden stories behind street names and their power to name, to hide, to decide who counts, who doesn’t—and why.
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.
This is an excellent book. I learned a lot about the history of attaching addresses to houses, apartments and buildings. I also learned more about racism. It should be required reading in high schools.
made me totally rethink how I look at the idea of street names as well as opened my mind to the importance of city infrastructure