Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power’ by Deirdre Mask

c.2020, St. Martin’s Press
$26.99
336 pages

Take a right turn at the church.

If you’ve ever gotten those words in the directions to some business, you know what comes following them: a feeling of being totally, inescapably lost. The feeling of frustration because there were actually two churches. The anger that your GPS app took you somewhere ridiculous. The thought that, as in “The Address Book” by Deirdre Mask, having a good, strong, easy-to-find address matters.

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail?

That’s all Deirdre Mask wanted to do: send her father a birthday card with a letter from her home in Ireland to his in North Carolina. As she pressed a stamp on the envelope, she idly wondered who got the fee — and that led her to the Universal Postal Union in Switzerland, which decides such things, and to An Address for Everyone, an organization that showed her something surprising: “Most households in the world don’t have street addresses.”

That, of course, is not optimal: at the very least, it means difficulty in receiving mail and packages from businesses outside the household’s area. Worse, economic impacts reach far beyond an individual. Not having an address could prevent access to financial services, credit, and help from government programs. Studies show, in fact, that the no. 1 request from homeless Americans is not a home but an address.

As for you, well, it’s not just the physical address of your customer that matters in the end. Where you place your workplace is equally important and shouldn’t be left to chance, if you can help it.

Because a land address equals power, the street number for your building matters and you can thank the Brits for that. Where you sit on the block makes a difference, for which you can thank Philadelphia’s founders. Your street name matters, especially if you can manage to get your name on the street sign; it can tell others a lot about the racial makeup of your city and, says Mask, “Street names are, in a way, the perfect propaganda tool.”

Have you ever been told that they name streets after people like you? You might consider that a compliment, after reading “The Address Book.”

That’s because this book is fun, serious enough to be useful to businessfolks who understand that its subject matter matters, but light enough with plenty of gee-whiz factor. Who, after all, notices this stuff?

You should, but unless your street address is wacky or borders on the profane (and author Deirdre Mask shows that there are those kinds of addresses around) you might’ve shrugged and went back to business when you moved there. Here, you’ll see why that may have been a bad idea, how addresses might influence others, and how you can (maybe) fix it.

Reading this book is like watching someone give directions. It’s great for anyone who’s ever left the GPS at home and gotten truly lost in a big city. “The Address Book” is lighthearted and, for you, that turns out just right.

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