Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. But the network had a billion-dollar flaw, and once people discovered it, things would never be the same.
Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long-distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T’s monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell’s Achilles’ heel. Phil Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of phone phreaks” who turned the network into their electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, the explosion of telephone hacking in the counterculture, and the war between the phreaks, the phone company, and the FBI.
The product of extensive original research, Exploding the Phone is a ground-breaking, captivating book.
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Phil Lapsley co-founded two high technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a consultant at McKinsey & Company where he advised Fortune 100 companies on strategy. He holds a Master's degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences from U. C. Berkeley and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Lapsley has been interviewed by NPR and the BBC and quoted in The New York Times and Boston Globe on telephone and computer security issues, and is the author of one textbook, sixteen patents, an Internet standard, and many technical articles.Review:
An Amazon, Seattle Times, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone is an authoritative, jaunty and enjoyable account of their sometimes comical, sometimes impressive and sometimes disquieting misdeeds. . . . The author's love of his subject pervades Exploding the Phone and persuaded this reader, at least, that the phone phreaks are worthy of thoughtful attention.”
Wall Street Journal
A fantastically fun romp through the world of early phone hackers, who sought free long distance, and in the end helped launch the computer era.”
A rollicking history of the telephone system and the hackers who exploited its flaws. [Lapsley] weaves together a brilliant tapestry of richly detailed stories. . . . A first-rate chronicle of an unexamined subculture.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A fascinating book steeped in the rich history of phreakers and hackers.”
Xeni Jardin, BoingBoing.net
As a bit of tech history with themes that resonate today it can't be beat.
Long before we ever came onto the scene there was . . . a ragtag group of folks who took the global phone network as the target of their hacking. Exploding the Phone is among the most comprehensive and engaging histories of that community ever published.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF’s Reading List: Books of 2013”
Exploding the Phone is an extraordinary book. . . . To have such a significant, yet underground story captured in such brilliant detail is rare, especially without turning it into a one-sided hero’s tale. Exploding the Phone is nearly perfect. I have three print copies, all paid for and autographed. You can’t have too many miracles lying around the house.”
Eminently interesting and completely original.”
A rocking great read about the unknown teenagers and hobbyists who defied AT&T when it was foolish to do so. In Lapsley's magnificent research he has uncovered what amounts to a secret pre-history of the computer and internet revolutions.”
Tim Wu, author of The Master Switch
With terrific reporting and story-telling. Phil Lapsley has put voluptuous flesh and bones on the legendary tales of the phone phreaks.”
Steven Levy, author of Hackers and In the Plex
"The definitive account of the first generation of network hackers. . . . At turns a technological love story, a counter cultural history and a generation-spanning epic, [Exploding the Phone] is obsessively researched and told with wit and clarity."
Kevin Poulsen, news editor of Wired.com and author of Kingpin
At once enjoyable and educational.”
With verve and technical accuracy, Phil Lapsley captures the excitement of the days when phone hackers explored Ma Bell's cabled paradise of dial phones and electromechanical switches. . . . . Here's the intriguing story of those first electronic adventurers tinkerers who'd bypass a pay phone with a couple transistors or reach around the world by whistling.”
Cliff Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg
"A fascinating story about a period of time that I lived through but didn't know much about. I can't imagine how much work Lapsley had to do to write this book it is remarkably well-researched, fun to read, and deserves great praise."
Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, Inc.
Before he was the god of sexy computers, Steve Jobs sold blue boxes to Hollywood stars and Bay Area hippies. Exploding the Phone connects the cultural lines that run from hacking Ma Bell to building personal computers. Here, for your amusement, is the story of the frothy counterculture that helped create today’s connected world.”
Thomas A. Bass, author of The Eudaemonic Pie and The Spy Who Loved Us
"Seldom are criminals this much fun."
Robert Sabbag, author of Snow Blind
An extremely interesting and engrossing read.”
A highly engaging history of the telephone itself and plenty of intrigue.”
"Phil Lapsley's great history of those hackers is packed with schemes, plots, discoveries, and brainy, oddball personalities. . . . [The stories] he uncovers and the questions he poses, about the nature of the relationship between criminality, curiosity, and technology is compelling, fascinating stuff."
Lapsley takes up one of the more unusual chapters of the American underground. . . . Lapsley’s knack for detail and his impressive research will have tech phreaks and non-phreaks, well, freaking. . . . It’s impossible to set this book aside. . . . One way or another Exploding The Phone will probably be one of the most talked about books this year.”
Exploding the Phone manages to pull of the seemingly impossible make one nostalgic for the days of busy signals, operators and rotary dials.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Always entertaining and clear without being excessively technical . . . a well-documented work of historical value. . . . Highly recommended.”
Lapsley more than ably conveys the nuances of this fascinating slice of technological history . . . and his enlightening new interviews with most of the major phreaks as well as AT&T security officers form one of the most significant levels of his tremendous research.”
School Library Journal
Lapsley’s delightful account . . . sheds light on an underappreciated chapter in the history of technology.”
Phil Lapsley's Exploding the Phone does for the phone phreaks what Steven Levy's Hackers did for computer pioneers, capturing the anarchic move-fast-break-stuff pioneers who went to war against Ma Bell . . . Lapsley is a master storyteller . . . We're moving into an era where every policy fight starts and ends as a fight over how technology should work and who should control it . . . Exploding the Phone is an essential guide to where that fight started, how it's changed, and where it has stayed the same, over more than half a century.”
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