Early in 1978 the New York Times ran the first of 19 articles by Sonny Kleinfield on the American Telephone & Telegraph Company. AT&T deserves such treatment because it is, almost any way one measures such things, the largest company in the world: It earns more money, owns more assets, employs more people , and is owned by more shareholders than any other company.
Now, Kleinfield has published a book based on those articles. The book provided the author an opportunity denied the series -- an opportunity to sum up and to provide some guidelines on the numerous policy issues surrounding this monstrous regulated monopoly. Unfortunately, Kleinfield let the opportunity slip away. The result is a book that is only occasionally more profound than an answer book for a telephone company trivia cult.
Maybe, just maybe, it is interesting to know that the Houston telephone directory, the nation's largest, contains 8,350 Smiths. But need we be told that the smallest directory has only 4 Smiths among the its 282 listings? Or that gophers inflict the most damage of any animal on telephone cable?
Daily events make this a timely book; more depth and a stronger point of view would have made it influential as well. William Baxter, chief of the Justice Department's Antitrust Division, wants to split AT&T into local phone companies, which would remain regulated, and companies selling long distance service and telecommunications equipment, which would be deregulated. "The Biggest Company on Earth" contains an information-laden chapter on each of these subjects: "On the Line" tells about one local company; "When You See Red, Get Yourself Moving" describes Bell's long-distance service; and "The Lint Requirement" covers Western Electric, the wholly owned company that AT&T keeps to manufacture, buy, and distribute "things" to the local companies that provide the "service." But these chapters fail to provide sufficient guidance to evaluate Baxter's proposal.