Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley
Before smartphones and iPads, before the Internet or the 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. By the middle of the twentieth century the telephone network 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.
Phil Lapsley’s Exploding the Phone 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. 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, and the counterculture movement that argued you should rip off the phone company to fight against the war in Vietnam.
AT&T responded with “Greenstar,” an unprecedented project that would ultimately tap some thirty-three million telephone calls and record 1.5 million of them. The FBI fought back, too, especially when a phone phreak showed a confidential informant how he could remotely eavesdrop on FBI calls. Phone phreaking exploded into the popular culture, with famous actors, musicians, and investors caught with “blue boxes,” many of them built by two young phone phreaks named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Soon, the phone phreaks, the feds, and the phone company were at war.
Based on original interviews and declassified documents, Exploding the Phone is a captivating, ground-breaking work about an important part of our cultural and technological history.