Synopses & Reviews
Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and 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. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell's revolutionary harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system 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.
Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It 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. Phil 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, the explosion of telephone hacking in the counterculture, and the war between the phreaks, the phone company, and the FBI.
The product of extensive original research, Exploding the Phone is a ground-breaking, captivating book.
"In 1967, an enterprising young Harvard student, Jake Locke (the names in this book have been changed), stumbled upon an intriguing ad in the Harvard Crimson; curiosity piqued, Jake soon discovered, with the help of the phone company's own materials and a few other interested people, that he could rig a 'blue box' that would allow him to subvert the phone system and make free phone calls. Drawing on exclusive interviews with former 'phone phreaks,' FBI agents, former Ma Bell employees, as well as on extensive research on telephone systems and declassified government documents, technology writer Lapsley smartly chronicles the adventures of many of these individuals, including two youngsters named Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, whose construction of a blue box set them on the road to developing future culture-changing technologies. For example, Lapsley tells the story of David Condon, who created a device that would mimic phone tones in order to fool the system into bypassing the operator for long-distance calls, and Ralph Barclay, whose quick study of the November 1960 issue of the Bell System Technical Journal allowed him to manipulate the phone system to his advantage to make free calls. In a perhaps too grandiose, though momentarily provocative, conclusion, Lapsley points out that the 'phone phreaks taught us that there is a societal benefit to tolerating, perhaps even nurturing the crazy ones... for if Wozniak and Jobs had gone to jail for making blue boxes, we might never have had Apple.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
"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. It captures a moment in time that might otherwise have been lost forever." Kevin Poulsen, author of Kingpin
"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. Even the phone company had a soft spot for these misfits. They are as well-behaved a band of troublemakers as you are ever likely to meet." Robert Sabbag, author of Snow Blind
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.” Cliff Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg
About the Author
Phil Lapsley co-founded two high technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a consultant at McKinsey and Company where he advised Fortune 100 companies on strategy. He holds a Master's degree in electrical engineering and computer sciences from U. C. Berkeley and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Lapsley has been interviewed by NPR and the BBC and quoted in the New York Times and Boston Globe on telephone and computer security issues, and is the author of one textbook, sixteen patents, an Internet standard, and many technical articles.