Book Review: Playing Tricks on Ma Bell
AT&T, like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, once bestrode the world like a colossus. In its heyday, from 1925 to 1984, it was a government-sanctioned and -regulated nationwide monopoly that was nearly all-powerful within its purview. Like Caesar, AT&T deployed legions — support and security personnel, scientists, engineers and lawyers — to buttress and enhance its domain. Also like Caesar, it was skewered by a small band of rebels.
AT&T’s perforators — proto-hackers who saw the phone system as an illicit puzzle to be conquered — became known as “phone phreaks”; their daggers were cunning electronic devices, technical expertise and nerve. Phil Lapsley’s “Exploding the Phone” is an authoritative, jaunty and enjoyable account of their sometimes comical, sometimes impressive and sometimes disquieting misdeeds.