- The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No One Reads by Ammon Shea
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Today relatively few people let their fingers do the walking through the Yellow pages, and fewer still consult the White pages. But much to the chagrin of groups like Ban the Phone Book, new volumes are being printed all the time—updated editions of the White pages compelled by law, freshened-up Yellow books driven by the promise of advertising revenue. Tell me about the first phone book. It listed the names of the businesses that had a telephone.
I understand that early phone books included directions on how to use the telephone.
The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No One Reads by Ammon Shea
Nobody had any idea how to use one. When people first started using the telephone they would often yell into the wrong part. Users also had to be advised how to begin and end conversations? Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book. So interesting, that I absorbed all the minutiae with relish and can probably spit it all back out, most preferably during a winning performance of Jeopardy!. Shea does spend about a quarter of the book detailing the history of the phone, which is necessary, but not at that length.
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Perhaps he wanted padding to get to pages, but the book would have had more substance had it been more concise. Also very, very surprising is his odd sentence structure, which very often flouts popular grammatical conventions, including ending several sentences with propositions. I did reach for the dictionary quite often, however, which I enjoy immensely when reading, but the word "putative" has now reached overkill.
It's in every new book I read. MartinBodek Jun 11, Shea's written an interesting, quirky tale about what on the face of it is a decidedly uninteresting book. However, it is not a history of the phone book. At best it is a collection of antecedents and musings that are at best tangentially connected to the telephone book. I was hoping for some solid information on the origins of the published telephone directory.
I was hoping for more information than three competing claims for the first published directory and a few pages about the phone books predecessor, the city directory. Even when musing about the missing headings for Bells and Whistles in modern yellow pages Ammon overlooks the relatively recent division of the Yellow Pages into two complimentary books, the Consumer Yellow Pages and the Business-to-Business Yellow Pages.
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The missing bell and whistle manufacturers likely located there. If you are simply interested in entertainment the book is worthwhile. If you are looking for information try the Yellow Pages. Luckily, the book is short.
The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No…
I found this in the remainders section of a Borders before it went out of business. It was a list of fifty names published in In the earliest days of telephones, one didn't need to know any phone numbers, as an operator used to connect callers on a switchboard. In the early twentieth century tests were conducted on phone book layouts to ease as well as accelerate number lookups. Column width, indentation, print size and many other factors were analyzed to produce the most effective print layout.
Even as early as the fourth decade of the last century did people look to the phone book for exploitative commercial reasons.
Shea wrote of one midwest business that looked to use the Manhattan directory to create its own mailing list: The phone book can be blamed for one of the greatest election miscalls in American history. The November 3, headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune, "Dewey Defeats Truman", can blame its own telephone exit polls on the phone book for this inaccurate result: The pollsters took what they thought to be the pulse of the electorate by calling random numbers taken from telephone books across the country.
Except that they weren't truly random--as soon as they chose the telephone book, they unwittingly skewed their results in favor of the people who owned telephones and who happened to be more inclined to vote for Dewey. He compared the Manhattan pages of to those at the time of writing, thirty years later, and had many interesting observations about the state of technology and how it affects advertising.
The yellow pages of Manhattan, keep in mind, so we're not talking about a small rural town, had no listings whatsoever for funeral preplanning in , yet 23 listings in The yellow pages of had more than a dozen pages of ads and listings for typewriters, yet in there was "but a single store that has chosen to run an ad in the small corner of the current telephone directory that deals with typewriters.
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After having found a directory that was around when he was a boy, Shea lets his fingers go walking through the list of names and he discovers people--and memories--that had been dormant for decades. He can take a different path each time he opens the book, so each trip down memory lane is a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. He invites the reader to do the same: Skim the pages or examine them closely.
You needn't read it as one reads a book--the plotline is your own, and you can experience it however you prefer. Shea writes about these groups yet offers in defence how profitable it is for the yellow pages to remain in print. As long as it makes money for the publisher and advertisers, we will still have print yellow pages.
Offering the public a choice, such as opting in if you wish to receive a phone book, or alternatively opting out if you don't, do not seem to be very effective. Shea provided statistics on municipalities that offered these choices with only minimal percentages taking the opt-out preference. Shea is a bibliophile at heart who would be a poor second-hand bookseller, as I am afraid he would buy everything everyone brings in to try to sell him. Yet after stating how tragic it is to throw away books, he does admit to a need however prejudiced to dispose of books: Indeed, there are many books that I feel deserve nothing more than a quick trip to the trash heap and should very likely have never been published in the first place.
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Astonishing numbers of new titles are published every year--the figure is estimated at over , in the United States alone. Surely some of these titles should never have seen the light of day. And yet it still tugs at my heartstrings to see so many telephone books thrown away, often still encased in their cheap plastic wrap, obviously not just unwanted but not even judged worthy of perusal.
Even the phone companies encourage this, in order to ensure that their latest editions are available. No one keeps old phone books because they are obsolete within a year, as well as being of exceptional girth. Sadly, Shea found that some libraries even disposed of their old phone book collections because of lack of use.
In the end, Shea calls for the continuation of the printed phone book for a reason beyond mere childish sentimentality: This in itself is not enough of a reason to insist on continuing to use the white pages. I know I do. One person found this helpful. Ammon Shea is a true Renaissance man. He read the entire unabridged Oxford English Dictionary and lived to write about it. Now he has directed his steadfast and sleuthing nature to the phone book, that once ubiquitous tome that now moulders unused and uncared for in plastic bags at the end of many suburban driveways.
Phone books contain some mobile phone numbers but in general they have become mere vehicles for Yellow Page advertising. Cell phones are killing the phone book.
But Shea was undeterred by any of that. He dug right in and found out lots of amazing things. I'll share one with you: I usually enjoy books like this that, in the grand scheme of life, are useless but really are interesting because they challenge you to learn about things you normally hear nothing about. Most interesting to me as I started to read the book is that in , not everyone even uses the phone book anymore. I honestly cannot remember the last time 1 we had a phone book delivered, 2 the last time I reached for the old one.
I almost felt a nostalgic, "I better read about it now before everybody forgets" draw to the book. The invention of the phone and how it became a part of our every day life has always interested me, and this book gives some good insight into the invention of the actual device and how that gave importance to the phone book and other directories. The stories of the first phone books didn't even have phone numbers!
I'm a trivia nut every Wednesday night! This book will not be for everybody. I would pick it up at a store and peruse the first 10 pages or so as I did or download a trial on your Kindle before purchasing. If it grabs you in the first 10 pages, dive headlong.