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Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service Paperback – February 14, 2017
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Named a Favorite Book of 2016 by the Washington Independent Review of Books
Delectably readable . . . [Leonard] has a zesty prose style, a great sense of humor, a fine eye for the telling anecdote and a lucid way of unraveling some of the controversies and challenges our postal service has faced in its 224 years of existence. Leonard’s account offers surprises on almost every other page . . . [and] delivers both the triumphs and travails with clarity, wit and heart.”Chicago Tribune
[A] sweeping and entertaining history . . . offers a host of interesting anecdotes.”New York Times Book Review
Intensely readable . . . Colored by entertaining and lively retellings, including the exploits of the Pony Express and of Wells Fargo . . . Leonard mines important moments from the history of the postal service.”Nation
Engaging [and] well-written.”Washington Post
Neither Snow nor Rain . . . serves up a colorful array of visionaries, hucksters, daredevils and crackpots . . . What’s most remarkable is the way [the] book makes you care what happens to its main protagonist, the U.S. Postal Service itself. And, as such, it leaves you at the end in suspense.”USA Today
A lively examination of America’s most ubiquitous public institution . . . Captivating and thoughtful.”Washington Independent Review of Books
Answers every question you’ve ever had about the United States Postal Service . . . Surprises abound. Who knew, for instance, that some early-20th-century families sent their children by parcel post to save on train fares?”Week
A good, quirky history book . . . Lively, fun . . . Leonard delivers a lot here, and moves fast as he entertains . . . Remember how exciting it was to get birthday cards in the mail? Neither Snow nor Rain is that much fun, and I think you’ll enjoy it. If you’re stamping around for something different to read, you’ll love every letter.”Journal Record
Equally rollicking and relevant . . . this is history on an epic scale . . . Engaging and concise . . . Leonard writes with a hard-nosed understanding of the organization’s current problems, but also sympathy and a fair amount of hope.”Strategy & Business
[A] delightful surprise . . . Devin Leonard’s book is a treasure; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. [Leonard] brings history to life, fleshes out bureaucrats and makes us deeply care about the post office . . . Magnificent . . . [A] definitive book . . . Whether you read this by swiping or turning, just read it.”Newark Star Ledger
Leonard doesn’t shrink from discussing the issues facing one of the nation’s oldest services. He tosses in a fair amount of postal lore, and one doesn’t have to be a history buff or a stamp collector to appreciate his tales . . . A compelling [story] worth reading.”Deseret News
Lively . . . brisk [and] informative . . . A spirited look at the business and impact of delivering mail.”Kirkus Reviews
An engrossing account of a once-vital service that may soon be nothing more than a memory.”Mental Floss (25 Amazing New Books for Spring)
Devin Leonard’s marvelous history of the United States Post Office recounts the American experience from a singular and highly entertaining angle. Along the way, you’ll encounter a visionary founding father, glad-handing rogue politicians, terrified biplane pilots, firebrand union bosses, and children with postage attached to their overcoats mailed cross-country as parcel post. I dare you to put it down.”William J. Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange and Masters of the Word
Devin Leonard has achieved something astonishing. He has taken the Post Officetoo often disparaged as the carrier of snail mail’ in this age of instant communicationand delivered a vivid and surprising story filled with indelibly drawn personalities including a founding father, an obsessive nineteenth-century smut-hunter, the swashbuckling pilots of the earliest, nearly suicidal airmail service, and many others. With crisp prose and unflagging narrative drive, Leonard reveals the forgotten history of the institution, and makes abundantly clear, the story of the Post Office is also the story of America.”Fergus M. Bordewich, author of The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government
Devin Leonard has given us a fast-moving, richly detailed portrait of the U.S. Postal Servicea system far more important to the country than is generally understood. Any devout fans of Cliff Clavin will be both proud and horrified by what Leonard unearths, but ultimately readers will be cautiously optimistic about this institution’s future.”Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store
A wonderfully written and insightful history of a great but beleaguered American institution. Devin Leonard brings the story of the Postal Service to life with memorable characters, from Benjamin Franklin to Franklin Roosevelt and many others, with cameos from the likes of William Faulkner and Ethel Merman. Who knew that the Postal Service had such a colorful history? Luckily, Devin Leonard knew it, and now so do we.”Terry Golway, author of Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics
In Neither Snow nor Rain, Devin Leonard tells the fascinating (yes, fascinating!) story of an endangered species, the US Postal Service. Leonard’s well-told story, which shows that mail delivery is a critical part of a functioning civilization, will be eye-opening to those who think the USPS should go the way of the buggy whip.”Bethany McLean, co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room and All the Devils Are Here
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The volume traces the history of the USPS through its founding by Benjamin Franklin who was the first postmaster general. During key historical events like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, the post office served to rally the sensibilities of civic-minded citizens through the delivery of 'incendiary' material like abolitionist literature. Leonard talks about the growth of the post office across the emerging westward frontier in the 19th century, competition from private couriers (like Henry Wells who ultimately set up Well Fargo bank) which started as early as in the 1930s and the short-lived Pony Express which delivered mail from Missouri to California using a horse relay. Early postmen had to fight off Indian attacks and had to navigate harsh geographical territory to deliver email.
There are amusing and interesting tidbits here: for instance, 'mailing' children reached alarming proportions before it was declared illegal. People also routinely tested the system by mailing fragile articles like eggs and fish. The book also does a good job laying out the social consequences of USPS policies. For instance rural free delivery which was started under Teddy Roosevelt's administration made it possible for farmers to know prices and the weather and freed them from rapacious customers and failed crops.
The book also reveals a sometimes fascinating cast of characters. Among all government positions, the position of postmaster general is probably least known, but Leonard tells us how pioneering postmasters like John Wanamaker and James Farley (under the stamp-loving FDR) expanded the mandate of the post office, commissioned vivid murals and built post offices in far flung locations. A particularly entertaining character is Anthony Comstock who took it upon himself to stem the flow of prurient literature through the mail, and remarkably sought and acquired powers to arrest those guilty of this crime. In fact, efforts to stop pornographic material from making its way through the mail have always been periodic features of the evolution of the USPS, usually engendered by puritanical postmasters.
One of the most readable parts of the book explores how intrepid (some would say foolhardy) pilots braved bad weather and primitive aircraft to prove that they could deliver mail faster than the railroad; some as early as only ten years after the Wright brothers's first flight. It's also interesting to note how the birth of the US Air Force can partially be traced to recognition of the poor quality of America's pilots and airplanes by way of airmail disasters.
Unfortunately I thought the book got bogged down in too much detail in its latter half, even as it explored topics like competition by private mail delivery agents, the minutiae of legislative dealings between the USPS, unions and Congress, the great postal strike of 1970 which virtually brought the economy to a halt (attesting to the importance of the service) and occasional shootings by disgruntled postal employees that tarnished the image of the USPS. What would have sustained the interesting momentum in my opinion is stories of individual postmen and women, their triumphs and troubles and their dedication: one promising lead appears when the book talks about New York postmen stoically delivering mail even on 9/11, doing their duty and conveying a reassuring sense of continuity to a shell-shocked public. More such personal stories would have really enlivened the narrative. In addition I think there was a real opportunity to discuss more the logistics of the post office, all the myriad ways in which it deals with the stupendous amount of mail it receives every day.
The book ends by noting that the only way the USPS has survived is by making pacts which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago: for instance it tells us that 40% of Amazon items are now carried by USPS, and most of its business now comes from junk mail. Budget cuts and losses continue to challenge its existence. But one thing the book makes clear is that whether it thrives or not, the USPS has been an integral part of the life of this country since its very beginnings. That's something worth thinking about the next time you step foot into your neighboring post office.
You don’t even have to be American or care for the postal service to find this book of interest. It mixes elements of business, politics, economics, history, sociology and much more besides together into a great fat book. Yet USPS is changing, shrinking and facing ever-critical threats from both competitors and politicians alike. What USPS is delivering is changing too, yet is it capable of keeping up with the new demands and is it being allowed to?
The USPS is more than a staid public institution. It has innovated and invented over time. There is no reason why it could not in the future. Some of the statistics provided are just mind-boggling: six days a week 300,000 letter carriers deliver 513 million mail pieces, accounting for 40 per cent of the world’s total, delivered by truck, small aircraft, pack mule and even by foot.
The author has done a great job in corralling a broad history and presenting it in an engaging, very more-ish style. It draws the reader in and keeps them ploughing through the book. Whether you are a casual reader or an academic using this as a source (with its own extensive series of endnotes and bibliography) you probably will get a lot out of this recommended book.