Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Review of The Address Book by Deirdre Mask (2020, Profile Books)

For many people street addresses seems quite mundane and routine. However, as Deirdre Mask, details they have become vital pieces of information for those living at an address and the operations of government and business. Yet, in many parts of the world street addresses remain absent causing issues for those who do not possess one. In this fascinating book, Mask travels to a number of locations to explore the history, variance and politics in street addressing, using her own investigations and interesting facts and anecdotes to illuminate the stories. As a popular science book it works well, keeping the analysis light and engaging, while providing enough depth and reflection to be insightful. And there’s a reasonable geographical mix, with stories relating to several countries, including beyond the West. Personally, I think there could have been more discussion of postcodes and other spatial addressing units such as townlands and parishes, and also how addresses are vital to industries such as geodemographics and data brokers (there is a capital imperative to addresses not just governance), but generally a wide range of addressing issues are discussed. 

As an aside, I thought it was interesting that Ireland featured so little in the book given the author was living on the island when she started researching and writing. A very large number of homes in Ireland have no street address – in the county I reside in over 60% of addresses are non-unique (I share mine with 13 other properties some of which are 3-4 km away and I have no road name or house number). And there can be multiple townlands of the same name in the same county. It is only the towns and cities that have road names and numbers. The solution, introduced in 2015 (after a lengthy debate and delays), has been individual property postcodes, which are still not widely used, even by government (and interestingly the biggest blocker of their introduction was the national postal service). In addition, many street names in Ireland were changed after independence, with all the associated politics that involved. Yet, Mask travels from Ireland to West Virginia to look at a place transforming its addressing and then onward to other countries. It seems odd given Ireland’s own history of addressing to not discuss where one is residing. Regardless, overall an interesting and enlightening read.

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