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The Address Book

What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power

Deirdre Mask

St. Martin's Griffin

The Address Book Download image

ISBN10: 125013479X
ISBN13: 9781250134790

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction
Finalist for a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award
Longlisted for the Porchlight Business Book Awards

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 wayfinding means of ancient Romans, how Nazis haunt the streets of modern Germany, and the fate of streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. 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.


Praise for The Address Book

"The Address Book is her first book, and she is already a master . . . How can a book about class, poverty, disease, racism and the Holocaust be so encouraging? Mask populates her daunting inquiries with a cast of stirring meddlers whose curiosity, outrage and ambition inspire them to confront problems ignored by indifferent bureaucracies."—The New York Times Book Review

“A radical treatise on class divisions in a nation that too often insists none exist.”—The Washington Post

"Read Deirdre Mask’s fascinating deep dive into the world of Mill Lane and Martin Luther King Street and you will begin to realize just how important these geographical markers are, how pregnant with meaning, and what a difference they make to everything from the proper functioning of society to questions of wealth, poverty and democracy . . . Highly entertaining."—The Sunday Times (UK)

"This is a fascinating volume revealing the racism and classism behind the street names and house numbers of the places in which we live. Deirdre Mask’s impeccable research and memorable stories make for a compelling history.”—Ms. Magazine

“Adam Gopnik observes that 'cities are their streets. Streets are not a city’s veins but its neurology, its accumulated intelligence.' In this light, street addresses map not just a city’s geography, but its very thoughts, and even its way of thinking. It is no accident that, in suburban sprawl, most people live on streets that go nowhere, or on parking lots with no proper street addresses at all. In this lively and eye-opening book, Deidre Mask unearths the many layers of meaning hiding just below the surface of the ways we place ourselves and others in our communities.”—Jeff Speck, urban planner and author of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

“The story of our streets is the history of our cities. Deirdre Mask reveals how the tales secreted within a street name can be as mesmerizing and mystifying as the city itself—and the people who call that place home."—Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg Associates, former NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner

“I had hoped The Address Book would change the way I think about an oft-overlooked, seemingly banal bit of everyday life. I had no idea it would so change the way I think about life itself.”—Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic and You May Also Like

The Address Book is a deeply-researched dive into the surprising histories and meanings that lie behind the seemingly mundane way we name our streets and number our houses and buildings. Deidre Mask provides powerful insight into the ways these addresses not only structure our lives but function as a tool to classify and track people, reflecting the enduring divides of class, race, and power. A must read for urbanists and all those interested in cities and modern economic and social life.”—Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class

”Deirdre Mask’s book was just up my Strasse, alley, avenue and boulevard. A classic history of nomenclature—loaded, complex and absorbing.”—Simon Garfield, author of On the Map: A Mind Expanding Exploration of How the World Works

“An impressive book-length answer to a question few of us consider: 'Why do street addresses matter?' In her first book, Mask combines deep research with skillfully written, memorable anecdotes to illuminate the vast influence of street addresses as well as the negative consequences of not having a fixed address . . . Throughout this eye-opening book, the author clearly demonstrates that package deliveries constitute a minuscule part of the significance of addresses—not only today, but throughout human history . . . A standout book of sociological history and current affairs.”—Kirkus Review (starred review)

"From her history of the city grid to an on-the-street look at the NGO trying to give every slum in India an address, Mask leaves us with a greater appreciation of our efforts to find each other, and a peek into what the future may hold.”—Booklist

“Engaging, illuminating, and with highly relevant current subject matter, this book is recommended for all readers, especially fans of popular history and politics."—Library Journal (starred review)

“An entertaining and wide-ranging debut . . . 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.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Read an Excerpt




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

About the author

Deirdre Mask

Deirdre Mask graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude, and attended University of Oxford before returning to Harvard for law school, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. She completed a master’s in writing at the National University of Ireland.

The author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power, Deirdre's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. Originally from North Carolina, she has taught at Harvard and the London School of Economics. She lives with her husband and daughters in London.

Courtesy of the Author

Deirdre Mask

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