A History of America in 36 Postage Stamps: A Review and a Giveaway

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.


  1. Katharine Ott on November 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

    My dad and I spent a lot of time with our stamp collections back in the 60s. It would be fun to pull them out and compare, seeing which ones we have that are in the book. I would love the chance to win a copy!

    • pamela on November 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      That’s a good reason to want the book.

  2. Nancy Saunders on November 19, 2014 at 2:04 am

    Hmmmm….perhaps a regular reader could be your sister-in-law? 🙂
    I too spent a lot of time with my stamp collection when I was in junior high/senior high school. My favorite memory is “trading” stamps with one of my parents’ friends, Logan Dunlap. He had so many many stamps that I didn’t have that over the course of an afternoon he would just say, “go ahead and keep them.” What a kind man!

    • pamela on November 19, 2014 at 2:10 am

      Proud and pleased to have my sister-in-law as a regular reader. And what a lovely stamp memory. Into the hat you go!

  3. Ashley @ Marginalia on November 19, 2014 at 2:27 am

    Aha! That’s why this seemed familiar — ShelfAwareness. 🙂

    I have been trying to win a copy of this for about six months, so I’m in! Thanks for offering this.

    So which of the stamps was your favorite? Any chapters really challenge your understanding of anything?

    • pamela on November 19, 2014 at 3:01 am

      I must admit to a soft spot for the 18th century revenue stamp simply because I had never seen one. For sheer beauty, I think the Apollo 8 stamp wins.

      I don’t think any any chapters challenged my understanding, but lots of details gave me “aha!” moments.

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