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

- Deirdre Mask


An exuberant and insightful work of popular history of how streets got their names, houses their numbers, and what it reveals about class, race, power, and identity.

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, 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.



In some years, more than 40 percent of all local laws passed by the New York City Council have been street name changes.



Deirdre Mask is an excellent storyteller. She seems like someone who could strike up a conversation with anyone and find out something interesting from them. Because of this, I found this book to be full of interesting people with insightful stories to tell. Unfortunately, I think the title of the book is too weighty for its contents and it falls short of living up to its potential.

Honestly, the only hang-up I have in this review is somewhat ironic considering its subject matter. So many people in the world live without an address or a way to be found or labelled. If this book had not been labelled ‘what street addresses reveal about identity, race, power, and wealth’ and instead was just ‘insights and stories about street addresses around the world’ I would have found it so much easier to relax into the stories themselves and would have enjoyed the book more.

The people discussed and interviewed are incredibly interesting people from around the world. They are doing inspiring work serving their communities and finding unique ways to solve a problem I was unaware even existed. And while I found the writing captivating and the stories interesting, I found I was left waiting at the end of each chapter to really have the point driven home. Where was the conclusion, the evidence, that Deirdre Mask was trying to present? In fact, a lot of the time it seemed she would spend the whole chapter trying to make one point only to backtrack at the end with another example which mollified her point.

I suppose this is a very long review just to say: interesting stories with a poorly executed thesis. I believe the title misleads and ends up clouding what could have been a more enjoyable read.


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