22 April 2013
Review: Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell
Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A while back I read a book about the beginnings of computer hacker culture, Masters of Deception. It was a fun, mostly interview-based history of hackers and such, fairly thin but very appealing. A lot of the beginnings of phone phreak culture were also highlighted in the book, but didn't get a ton of play overall.
Then, a few months ago, Radiolab did a podcast/show that highlighted a person who knew how to access the phone system and make calls simply by whistling the correct tones. He, along with many others in the 1960s and 1970s, learned the ins and outs of the AT&T phone network and hacked it to pieces. Exploding the Phone is the story of that movement.
I knew a lot of the basics - blue boxes, the tones and such. What I didn't realize was about how widespread it was, or many/any of the personalities involved. The book is very heavily reliant on interviews with many of the primary phone phreaks, and it provides a really significant and worthwhile insight into the history and culture.
The book is extremely readable, with just enough technical information without overwhelming us with a lot of data and specifics that would only confuse things. If it has any real flaws, it's that the damage and the illegality of the situation too often takes a back seat to a more positive look at most of the phreaks, but this isn't really about the era as much as the people and circumstances, so it can easily be forgiven.
Definitely one of the better mainstream nonfiction books I've read lately. Of an era and a culture that doesn't get nearly enough thrift, and especially with a group that would fit in quite well with the maker movements of present day, the book is an excellent recommended read.
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