Book Review: The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power
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The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power is a thoroughly researched book on street addresses. Author Deirdre Mask explains the how, what, and why of having an address. Most of us take having an address for granted. But what about the homeless people and areas of the world that exist without an address? How did addresses come to be? Why did some people fight against having them? Mask addresses those issues and more.
The book is well-researched and entertaining, covering a wide gamut of topics related to name streets and numbering buildings.
How do streets get their name? Often a city official decides on the names. In some places like in Raleigh County, West Virginia, it is required that residents on a street agree on a name.
What happens when they don’t agree? “I threaten them with Chrysanthemum,” said one coordinator.
Parts of the book are historical such as the birth of the penny post in England in 1840, where it also talks about how by 1900 the mail was delivered up to 12 times a day in some areas of London.
Imagine a world where you can send a dinner invite in the morning mail, receive an acceptance letter later that day, and then have your guest over for dinner that evening.
Mask includes a section on the dead letter office where people are employed to decipher who or where the letter in question was intended to go. As in many things, trends play a part in naming streets too.
Fashions in street names change. For a long time in the United States, nature names were in vogue. (The same is true in Poland where the five most popular names are Forest, Field, Sunny, Short, and Garden.)
In Manhattan (and possibly other cities as well) people with enough money can by an address even if their actual location is not on that street. Naturally this can cause some issues, especially with police, fire trucks and the ambulance service. I didn’t even know it was possible to purchase an address like that.
Assigning each house a number simultaneously advanced bedrock principles of the Enlightenment: rationality and equality. Cities should be easy to navigate, and people easy to find. Taxes could be collected, criminals found quickly. And a peasant’s home was numbered the same as an aristocrat’s.
For those of us who like reading about history, especially postal history, The Address Book is an excellent book to add to your bookshelves.
by Deirdre Mask
St. Martin’s Press, 336 pp, $26.99
April 14, 2020
4 out of 5 stars