In A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps, Chris West took the concept of micro-history to a new degree of micro, using a chronological series of postage stamps as “tiny rectangular time machines”. In his newest work, West uses the microscopic lens of the postage stamp to examine American history.
West cleverly opens A History of America in 36 Postage Stamps with the image of an eighteenth-century British revenue stamp—explicitly making the point that the history of the United States begins with a stamp. He ends with a self-designed stamp from stamps.com, a statement of discomfort about including a picture of himself in a collection that includes portraits of figures such as Washington and Lincoln, and a thoughtful discussion of the personalized stamp as the logical extension that all men are created equal. Along the way he discusses themes of American history drawn from the stamps, including westward expansion, innovation, and individualism. The themes themselves hold no surprises for anyone familiar with the broad outlines of American history, but West consistently chooses quirky or unfamiliar details to illustrate his story and occasionally draws unexpected connections. Perhaps the most interesting element of the book for American readers is the way West uses the history of America’s postal service to illuminate social history. (Who knew that post offices became targets for hold-ups during the Great Depression?)
A History of America in 36 Postage Stamps is an engaging read that will appeal to both history buffs and stamp enthusiasts. If you happen to fit either of those categories,* I’m happy to offer you the chance to win an ARC of one of West’s two books. If you want your name to go into the hat,** make a comment here on the blog, send me an e-mail, or comment on my Facebook post on or before December 1. Two books. Two ARCs. Two chances to win.
* If you’re a regular reader here in the Margins I assume you’re a history buff. Or one of my parents.
** Or more accurately, into the medium-size mixing bowl.
Most of this review appeared previously in Shelf Awareness for Readers.