Author: Deirdre Mask
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: Parts of this book felt obvious to me, but other sections included novel fun facts and thoughtful analysis that I loved.
This is a book that’s been on my radar since I included it in my Futuristic Friday list of books I was excited for in April. The subtitle (‘What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power’) immediately grabbed my attention. I love books where you get to learn about overlooked facets of everyday life. I’ve also been making a push to read more books addressing racism and classism, so I was interested to see how those concepts are embedded in our street addresses.
Like the other Kirkus shortlist titles I’ve read so far, this book had a lot going for it! The author roamed the world broadly in her discussion of street addresses. Comparisons between different countries, different time periods, and different regions of the US were all interesting and informative. The chapters on racism in the US and in South Africa were particularly powerful. Her take on streets named after Confederates in the US was one of the best explanations I’ve read of why it matters that we still use these names. The section on South Africa was also strong, taking a nuanced look at how a country can move forward from a divided past.
Even within the US, there were some fun facts that I was startled to learn. As an example, it turns out that in NYC, you can pay to have an address that doesn’t match your location, but that may sound more affluent. I also learned a lot more about the value of having an address (emergency services finding you, applying for employment) and the downsides (enables discrimination based on residence). The author explored this idea thoroughly and extended it to the digital addressing currently occurring in parts of the world that lack traditional addresses. Her analysis was thoughtful and enjoyable to read.
This book did have a few downsides that kept my from giving it five stars though. First, a decent amount of the content was not new to me. If I have to read about John Snow and the cholera epidemic stopped by removing a pump handle one more time, so help me. And second of all, some of the chapters had titles with questions that I was excited to learn more about, but then failed to answer those questions in a meaningful way. For instance, a chapter on why streets are named after revolutionaries described how the French revolution was followed by a bout of street re-naming. The author claims that after this, the idea of re-naming streets to show changing ideals really caught on. To me, this isn’t entirely plausible. As the author herself indicated, plenty of streets were named in ways that were political or moralizing before the French revolution. Even if we buy this origin, the only answer it provides to why is the obvious one – after revolutions, people like street names to reflect social change.
Despite these few small weaknesses, this was the most approachable of the three Kirkus shortlist books I’ve read so far. It included a ton of fascinating information. It was relatively short and each section used at least one story to illustrate a point. It was also well written and well researched, blending academic content with the author’s own experiences. While I’d currently rank it last of the three Kirkus prize nominees I’ve read, it’s still a great book and I’d highly recommend it.