When I collected postal stamps as a boy, I just enjoyed them as colorful bits of paper and tried to fill my stamp book pages. I did not realize that every stamp had a story, nor did I know that each had to be conceived, designed, and approved. To my credit, I did notice that most of the stamps depicted famous people or historical scenes. I did not continue collecting past my school days.
British author Chris West obviously kept up his stamp collecting and studied his stamps' origins. In his new book A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps, he used what he learned to recount modern British history, starting with the coronation of Queen Victoria and continuing to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. In the process of reading his clever book, we learn about the reign of monarchs, the Industrial Revolution, the rise and fall of the British Commonwealth, the rise of the British middle class, Britain's reluctance to join in European Unions, the death of Princess Diana, and the development of digital communications. The Post Office and its royally-appointed postmasters had a role in all of these developments.
While West's book focuses on Great Britain, it should find many appreciative readers in the United States, people who can both reaffirm what British history they know and learn something knew. Its 36 short chapters can be parceled out as dessert reading over many days. A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps is worth checking out.
West, Chris. A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. Picador, 2013. 277p. ISBN 9781250035509.