My book review of 'The Address Book' by Deirdre Mask

The Address Book

by Deirdre Mask
The Address Book
by Deirdre Mask

As we jot down the house number, road and postcode to visit a friend, or automatically type in our own details for an online purchase or official form, we are all likely to take addresses for granted at some point.

We think of them being a purely administrative tool, but they tell a grander narrative of how power has shifted and stretched over the centuries, says the author of this fascinating book.

She takes us to the slums of Kolkata and introduces us to our cities' homeless where it's impossible to escape poverty without an address. There's a timely reminder of how an epidemic was halted through maps and addresses in London and Haiti. There are the political implications of street names, and the financial value of living in certain locations.

She tells us something of how zip codes, or postcodes, were introduced, and why governments wanted us to have house numbers.

There are details of the Dead Letter Office where a dedicated team seek to decipher incorrectly addressed mail. And you're sure to smile at some of the ways in which people have been found - a letter in the 1900s was addressed to 'My dear Ant Sue as lives in the Cottage by the Wood near the New Forest'. Or 'To my sister Jean, Up the Canongate, Down a Close, Edinburgh. She has a wooden leg.'

This book is dense with information taking us back and forth in time, and whisking us all around the world. It's full of details that are likely to intrigue and astound, and there'll be plenty here to remember for conversations over the dinner table. It's a real page-turner too. Brilliant!

Review date: December 2020
Publication date: 2nd April 2020