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A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  153 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
Stamps tell a story—and Chris West's book is the unique, fascinating tale of Great Britain told through its stamps.

Hailed by The Times of London as "a splendid reminder of the philatelic glories of the past," A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps tells the rich, layered, and breathtaking history of England through thirty-six of its fascinating, often beautiful, and som
Hardcover, 277 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Picador (first published October 1st 2012)
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Aug 09, 2013 Joseph rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, british
A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps by Chris West is a unique take on looking at history. West is a graduate of the London School of Economics where he studied economics and philosophy. He wrote his first book Journey into the Middle Kingdom after the traveling to China. His fiction includes the China Quartet four crime novels based in the the People's Republic of China. West's other non-fiction include books on business and entrepreneurship.

Stamps are history. I remember having s
Aug 08, 2013 Bandit rated it it was amazing
This was precisely the kind of non fiction I enjoy. Informative and educational without being boring or pedantic. Chris West does a phenomenal job of capturing the history of Britain from the time stamps were invented to present. I loved his writing style, very acessible with occasional dash of wry british humor. I read an advance reading copy of the book won on GR giveaway, I can imagine when the book actually comes out, it'll be even more awesome, since all this arc was missing were some photo ...more
Margaret Sankey
Sep 23, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Like the pennies I use for the opening day in World History, stamps are a public, conservative representation of how the establishment wants to present the country to the world. West chooses thirty-six iconic stamps, tracing the expanding reach of technology and empire until the dramatic shift of post WWII stamps into social and cultural themes (with the first non-white Briton appearing on a stamp, celebrating scouting, in 1982).
Robbie Leslie
Nov 17, 2012 Robbie Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a super book. The idea of presenting a history of the United Kingdom through its stamp issues, beginning with the Penny Black, is certainly quirky but it works well. Mr West knows his stamps and he knows his history. The Penny Black stamp issue occurred at the very beginning of Queen Victoria's reign. It was a postal, and social, revolution and thus makes a great starting point for a discussion of the huge social, economic and political advances that occurred during Victoria's long reign ...more
Dec 03, 2013 Valerie rated it liked it
Shelves: first-read
I won A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps by Chris West in a Goodreads giveaway. I received an advanced reader’s copy of trade paperback size, with a handsome glossy cover printed in dark, rich colors. The book is nearly 280 pages with appendix and index, and the book has a defined style to it, with bordered pages and an old-timey family of font faces.

Mary Poppins taught us “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, and in this same way the amiability of thirty-six postage s
Jennifer-Eve Workman
Oct 18, 2013 Jennifer-Eve Workman rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History Buffs, Stamp Collectors
Recommended to Jennifer-Eve by: Goodreads Giveaways
Shelves: 2013
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. Being a history buff and doing genealogy in my free time, I was very excited to receive this book. Whenever I can trace a family root to a new country, I try to research it and find out about its history. This book was able to spare the usual boring high school-like lecture on history. It was also neat that you could learn so much based on their postage stamps... I'm pretty sure the US couldn't do the same. LOL

The author, Chris West was able to tell a sta
Jun 18, 2013 Robin rated it liked it
This is a very unique look at British history through the stamps that represent historical events and/or individuals. Although not that familiar with most of Britain's history, especially its storied monarchy, this book provided an enjoyable historical backstory to each of the 36 stamps. One memorable line from Chapter 32: "This is the world as understood by postmodernist philosophers, where there is no reality, only constructs, and where politics (and everything else) is about who can create th ...more
Jul 16, 2013 L. rated it it was amazing
Excellent hook for an informative nonfiction work. Stamps and history are inextricably intertwined, on both the superficial (those people and events that are chosen for depiction) and deep levels (the long history of postage allows us a consistent basis by which to view history at large). West chooses well and weaves a seamless narrative.
Aug 16, 2013 Tim rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Limited in scope (naturally), and at times a bit forced, but highly readable, very clever, and very knowledgeable perspective on modern British history as seen through the lens of postage stamp.
Jul 17, 2013 Portia rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. It was a very interesting way to follow the track of modern British history, which in many ways corresponds with that of the USA.

Aug 28, 2014 Fallon rated it it was amazing
Love this book!

Review coming tomorrow.
Jul 04, 2016 Marsha rated it it was amazing
It was Rowland Hall who initialed post office reform. Instead of the recipient paying to receive mail, Hill held that postage should be replaced by a single rate by the sender. A competition was thus held for the design of the new penny postage. Over 2,600 entries arrived, and most were for envelopes and letter sheets, but the winner for the stamp entry was from William Wyon which portrayed a profile of Queen Victoria. Other artists and engravers would improve upon the design and the finished pr ...more
Sep 20, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it
I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher through Goodreads First-reads giveaway program.

Each time we've gone to a stamp show my wife and I first head to poster presentations to see what people have put together. Philatelists take a theme, or a bit of postage history and develop one to many panels that explore the concept in a mixture of text and stamp presentation. They can vary from very dry postal minutiae to stunning artistic displays, and all between.

West's work h
Andrea Stoeckel
Sep 19, 2013 Andrea Stoeckel rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating look at the history of Britan reflected in the tiny scraps we call stamps. Stamps are interesting. Even I have collected a few in my life. They are windows into what is important at that time. West's pretense is that in Britan, they have been used to bloster flagging spririts, defend the monarchy, present a united front, and as the 21st century begins, project hope in the people.

British stanps always remind us that "someone is watching" from the very first one. Most stanps
Tom Donaghey
Sep 18, 2013 Tom Donaghey rated it really liked it
Chris West has managed to hang the meaty history of Britain from 1840 to today on the armature of 36 postage stamps and the result is impressive. Like Bill Bryson before him, West has taken what would normally be thought of as a relatively tame concept (talking about stamps) and exploded it into a thoroughly fascinating and delightful read. Using the story of the stamp as a starting point, he manages to take the reader on a fun romp though the doughty and sometime overwhelming history of what h ...more
Holly Cline
Sep 20, 2013 Holly Cline rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, history
I like the gimmick of this book that I won through First Reads. It's a good idea to use ever changing postage stamps as a guideline to tell a more modern history of Britain. There were of course times when a chapter's stamp didn't REALLY jive with the story being told, but for the most part, this book is exactly what I needed it to be. It reads a bit like a British History for Dummies guide, but I didn't find it too simple. Probably because I'm American, and in American schools we don't focus so ...more
Oct 21, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
I received a free ARC of this book through Goodreads First Reads giveaways. Using stamps as a jumping off point for a trip through British history from the Victorian era through today, this book was a surprisingly engaging read. Bits of information about the stamps themselves, the printing process, the post office, etc. appeal to the collector and provide a glimpse into British postal culture, particularly for an American reader like me. West's writing style had much more pep than I was expectin ...more
Derek Emerson
Oct 13, 2016 Derek Emerson rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-books-read
This book is a wonderful romp through modern British history all with a connection to stamps issued during the time. As a stamp collector, this serves as a reminder of the stories behind the stamps. Collectors can get caught up in amassing a number of stamps or collecting for the monetary value when what really draws most of us to stamps are the stories from around the world. Stamps are a cultural reflection of society in time and place and people have voted for those reflections in whether they ...more
Aug 13, 2013 Kimberly rated it it was amazing
Quick review: I am amazed at how much I really enjoyed this book.

Full review: My first thought after reading this book was that it would make a great series. For example I would love to find out the history of other countries though their stamps. This approach was very unique and interesting. The author covered a lot of different historical topics in a unique way. Sometimes books discussing historical events revisit the same topics over and over again in an attempt to show the whole story. The
Sep 19, 2013 Ellen rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book from Goodreads First Reads (thanks!).

This was an interesting premise for a book...the author chose 36 stamps to represent the major events in British history since 1840. I found the time frame to be fairly manageable and the way he brought in a wide variety of significant events was impressive. My British history knowledge (ok, my history knowledge in general) is somewhat limited, so this provided me with a good background. The main thing that didn't work for me was that within e
David Duncan
Aug 20, 2013 David Duncan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all adults and children interested in stamps
Recommended to David by: goodreads
Shelves: first-reads
This is my thirty -eighth book that I have received and read from Goodreads. This book was full of England's history thru the stamps, from the time period they were printed. The author Chris West did a excellent job of compiling all the history and the highlights of that time period. With England's first printing and use of the first stamp thru the thirty-six used today. It was really interesting the parts women played in the history of stamps. Mr. West did a excellent job of researching the pas ...more
Sara G
Oct 21, 2013 Sara G rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I won my copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

This book was exactly what I was hoping for: a pleasant, easy read about British history from Queen Victoria until now. I am an avid stamp collector as well as a big reader of historical subjects (it seems like most people do combine the two) so this book was perfect for me. It focuses more on economic issues than anything I've read in the past, too, so it wasn't just retreading old ground. Best of all, at the very end it
Lauren Walters
Oct 02, 2013 Lauren Walters rated it it was amazing
I received this book as a First Reads book. I don't read many history books, but I added this to my to-read list because I'd like to learn more about history throughout the world. This book was very well-written and connected the stamps to their times in history brilliantly. You don't think too much about stamps reflecting the current state of affairs in a country at the time. Reading this book helped open my eyes to how something so overlooked as a stamp can give so much information. Obviously, ...more
Dan Sibbet
Mar 04, 2014 Dan Sibbet rated it really liked it
This charming book is more about English culture and society than about postage stamps. Author West writes in a breezy, down-to-earth style that moves the reader right along to the next chapter (that is, the next stamp). As he notes in a postscript, it is a challenge to present 150 years of the history of Britain into just 75,000 words. But using selected stamps as guideposts, he does so, and quite delightfully. I especially liked his presentation of the period from the end of WWII to Margaret T ...more
Jim Mann
Feb 26, 2014 Jim Mann rated it really liked it
When I was younger, I collected stamps (and I still have my old stamp collection) so this book tying stamps to history was intriguing. It uses stamps as a starting point. In some chapters, the history ties closely to the stamps. In others, they are related because they stamps show an historical person or event. And in yet others, the stamp is really used as a representative of an era, as a starting point for discussing that era. Overall, it's a fine short history of Britain from the mid-Victoria ...more
Barbara Gordon
Nov 08, 2013 Barbara Gordon rated it really liked it
Ummmm... where to start? Well, this book was full of interesting historical references. It was definitely an enjoyable way to learn some history of another country. And I liked how in the back the value of the stamps were shown. The only thing that could have made this better would have been if the pictures were in color so you could see the detail of the stamps better. Since I received an ARC for a review from the author, I'm not sure if only the ARC copies were in black & white, or if the ...more
Tammy Raue
Oct 03, 2013 Tammy Raue rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads, own
I was so excited to win this through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway! I originally entered the giveaway with an eye to giving the book to my future father-in-law for Christmas if I won as he is a stamp collector. However, after I received it and started reading it, I decided it was staying in my library and I bought him his own copy. It was a unique way to look at British history as it was connected to postage stamps. Chris West did a wonderful job of putting it all together--a thoroughly enj ...more
You could say this book is based on a gimmick, but I think it's an effective gimmick. In 36 brief essays, West explains how postage stamps came to be, why they matter, what the images on them represent, how Britain has changed, and what Britain thinks is worth celebrating. It's an interesting juxtaposition of history, technology, culture, sports, and everyday life.

I don't think a reader with a vast knowledge of stamps and/or British history would find this book interesting, but I'm not an expert
Oct 26, 2013 David rated it really liked it
I posted a review:

where I basically suggested that this book appeals to anglophiles and stamp collectors. People who are not anglophiles, history enthusiasts or stamp collectors probably will have no interest in the book at all.

I did get this as an ARC through Edelweiss.

I read the whole book.

I learned information from reading the book.
Sep 28, 2013 Amy rated it liked it
Thank you Goodreads - I won a early release through their site. I'm not a stamp collector, but I enjoyed West's book using stamps as a metaphor for different aspects of British history. The chapters were easily digestible gems of political, social, and popular culture history in a wonderful mix. The book helped me put a lot of other books and history into perspective. The stamps provide a wonderful backdrop to the shifts and turns of history.
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I grew up in a country village north of London. As a boy I filled endless notebooks with stories - not all of them finished! As a young man I played in various (unsuccessful) bands, then worked in the City of London. I studied philosophy and economics as a 'mature' student (though I wasn't very mature). After leaving uni I went backpacking in China, and wrote a book about that adventure which came ...more
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