Review: Exploding The Phone

Phil Lapsley’s Exploding The Phone captures the phone phreaking culture with both solid journalism and with the sort of enthusiasm that brings a story to life. I have long known that phreaking was a foundation for the modern hacking and open source communities, but the scene never came alive for me.  Reading Exploding The Phone was like finding my parents’ high school year book for the first time and realizing that they went through the same things I did.  It was enlightening and warming.

The first few chapters are a little repetitive for my taste.  Lapsley follows several seminal phreakers introduction to the phone system, and those paths are different only in detail.  As a result, the chapters are somewhat repetitive.  I think that Lapsley is trying to give these fellows their due and to introduce the cast for the rest of the chapters, but I would have been happier with one detailed chapter and somehow getting just the differences.

Once the narrative begins to talk about the social scene that phreakers developed around conferencing and connecting to one another inside the phone network, the scene becomes recognizable as a forerunner of modern social networks. That’s the point at which it becomes rich enough to go from academic to exciting for me.

In addition to the social networking of the phreakers, Lapsley brings the stories of the phone company employees and law enforcement officers who collided with them.  These folks shared the phreaker mentality and skill set to different extents, just as such folks do today.  It makes the scene more full and believable.

Overall this is a great view of an legitimately exciting time that is the basis for much modern technology.  Jobs and Wozniak figure prominently, and the path from phreaks to hackers is remarkably clear.

Strongly recommended.

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