If you still think of history as a bunch of boring dates and dry text in a history book, you are missing a lot of fascinating rich, colorful stories. Lately, some authors have been introducing a lot of people to the intrigue of the past by using common objects as anchors for the stories. A History of the World in 6 Glasses is one example. So is this book, A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps. Chris West uses the history of stamps from the first Penny Black in 1840 to the present to examine British history, as well as social issues and politics.
While West does provide information about the Royal Mail and the stamps themselves, often the link between the stamp’s appearance and significance and the actual events discussed are very tenuous and may have no more to do with each other than a time period. For most of Victoria’s reign the stamps changed very little with Victoria appearing on first the Penny Black, then the Penny Red, and The Lilac. While the post got more and more popular, there was so much more going on in this long period of modern British history and West gives us many stories that do not have anything to do with those stamps.
In fact, West provides an amazing amount of information in 75,000 words. He covers the rise and fall of the British Empire, the Industrial Revolution, the two World Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, The Beatles, Margaret Thatcher, financial ups and downs, and much more.
As for the stamps themselves, I received an Advance Reader Copy which depicted them only in black and white. However, I also received an insert which showed them in beautiful color. This leads me to believe that the actual book will probably include these often very striking images.
The appendix provides information on the value desirability and availability of the stamps and will be of use to those who are inspired to begin their own collections or for the more experienced collectors as well. By no means does one need to be a stamp enthusiast to enjoy this concise, cogent and easy to read book. It is recommended for anyone with an interest to learn more about Britian in an easy to read and enjoyable way.