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Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell Hardcover – February 5, 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 189 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Sporting a foreword by Steve Wozniak (who, before he founded Apple computers, was a phone phreak himself) and the kind of detailed history that will appeal to the book’s target audience, this isn’t just a story about the early phreaks—the term that combines phone and freak and is used to describe the people who figured out how to fool the telephone system into allowing them to make free long-distance calls. It’s also the story of a giant phone company so desperate to maintain its monopoly that it resorted to outrageously illegal practices and of the war between the FBI and the phreaks, who claimed ripping off the phone company was a form of political protest. Like Ammon Shea in The Phone Book (2010), Lapsley uses his main subject as a jumping-off point for a highly engaging history of the telephone itself and plenty of intrigue. Sure, these guys, these phreaks, were breaking the law, but they were also innovators, technological geniuses, precursors of today’s computer hackers. A fascinating book. --David Pitt

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

“Brilliantly researched.”
Atlantic

“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.”
Seattle Times

“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.
—Gizmodo.com

“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.”
—Jason Scott

“Eminently interesting and completely original.”
—Daily Beast

“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.”
—CNET

“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.”
—Slashdot

“A highly engaging history of the telephone itself and plenty of intrigue.”
Booklist

"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."
Portland Mercury

“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.”
—PopMatters

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.”
Choice

“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.”
Reason

“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.”
Boing Boing

Product details

  • Item Weight : 1.63 pounds
  • Hardcover : 416 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 080212061X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0802120618
  • Product Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.25 x 9.25 inches
  • Publisher : Grove Press; 37885th Edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 189 ratings
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