Book Review: The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth and Power by Deirdre Mask

by @edent | | 3 comments | 400 words

A book cover featuring a keyhole carved out of a city map.

When most people think about street addresses they think of parcel deliveries, or visitors finding their way. But who numbered the first house, and where, and why? What can addresses tell us about who we are and how we live together?

Deirdre Mask looks at the fate of streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr., how ancient Romans found their way, and why Bobby Sands is memorialised in Tehran. She explores why it matters if, like millions of people today, you don't have an address.

From cholera epidemics to tax hungry monarchs, Mask discovers the different ways street names are created, celebrated, and in some cases, banned. Full of eye-opening facts, fascinating people and hidden history, this book shows how addresses are about identity, class and race. But most of all they are about power: the power to name, to hide, to decide who counts, who doesn't, and why.

What an amazing book!

Simply a must-read for anyone involved in public administration.

One of the nicest things about the book is that it isn't just focussed on the White Western World. It goes from the slums of Kolkata to the revolutionary streets of China. It's a stunning exploration of the tiniest administrative details all the way up to war crimes.

I had no idea of the history of addresses - nor how they've been used to empower and repress people in equal measure. The way people get so worked up over what seems like a minor administrative detail is extraordinary. And yet, at the same time, completely understandable. These scribbles on a map define so much about our lives - and we barely ever discuss their origins or their purpose.

The book zooms through history - from antiquity and into the future - at a rapid pace. I felt like I'd seen the world and lived through the court-cases which shape our domestic geography. It's an outstanding set of investigations into an often overlooked piece of street furniture.

A small disclaimer - the author briefly interviewed me about my blog post "Why bother with What Three Words?" and quoted me in her conclusion. Which was a lovely surprise.


3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal about Identity, Race, Wealth and Power by Deirdre Mask

  1. @Edent Ooh, this sounds fascinating I've often thought about street names and why and when streets in my area have been named, but not always been able to easly find adequate history of them.I think I'll add this one to my reading list!

  2. The ways locations are addressed is a fascinating subject.

    For those of you who are real address geeks:
    http://histoiremesure.revues.org/pdf/3942

  3. This is brilliant, Terence — thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed it.

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