Book Review: A History of America in Thirty-six Postage Stamps

historyMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off, let me say that I received this as an ARC from the author, via the First Reads program (which I love!). If you do not know, ARC stands for Advanced Readers Copy, which also means that the book has not gone through it’s final edit. There were a few grammatical errors that I found, but this should hopefully be caught, and really were nothing drastic. The other thing about this ARC, is that I did not get the colored pages of the stamps that it mentions on the back, which was truly depressing. I could however look them up on Google. There are no footnotes or endnotes – I do not know if he is really required to have them, I am just used to them – also the fact that he uses quotes very well.

I have a uniquely qualified background to review this book – I have a history degree. And as such, I must say that I really enjoyed it. The writing is wonderful, and Chris West’s personality shows through, not only in the facts that he includes, but also in his asides, his personal opinions he includes, and his choices in what stamps to use. His wonderful sense of humor also shows in his writing. I imagine his own stamp collection is spectacular and I would love to see it. <br><br>When I first entered this contest I thought that it would be interesting to see just exactly how he writes America’s history using stamps. It was actually a brilliant idea (On that note, he has a book just like this about Britain that I must get my hands on). For each time period, he picks a stamp which is at the beginning of the book, and then he goes through the time related to that. He mentions wonderful random facts that I never knew, but loved hearing, and also covered all the major things through America’s history. For someone that wants a great read and to learn more about America, it would be the perfect book. It is amazing that something like a stamp, which is so small, can tell so much about our history and why it was produced.

He manages to use world history, the history of America, and pop culture altogether to give us a wonderful concise history of America itself, it’s policies, politicians, and thriving, ever changing culture (melting pot?). The stamps tell wonderful stories, and the USPS itself has an interesting background in it’s creation and culture. The different postmasters are also fun to learn about.

Some of the fun facts I learned all summed up: There was 1776 miles of transcontinental railroad, One set of parents posted their daughter to her grandmother, because they couldn’t afford the actual train ticket, The Spanish Lady, origin of the phrase “the real McCoy,” stamps and money were stolen at one point, “dead cat bounce,” FDR married his niece, and when “under God” came into play. Of course there were many more, but these were the few that struck me the most. <br><br>My two favorite chapters were “The Rebel Yell” and “Bowling Alone.” I also liked how he discusses the Trail of Tears, and continues to mention Native Americans throughout the book and their history within the United States. The Civil War is of course prominent, and I actually enjoyed learning about the South’s president. He also continues to mention this, the death toll, and more. Civil Rights accurately is often discussed, as well as advances we have made (or more likely, not made) in that regard. This book is so all encompassing in 306 pages that I thought it could never work. Somehow, he does it.

One of my favorite lines: “The truth: history loves surprises, and never moves in straight lines, so nobody can predict these big evens with any certainty” (pg. 299), and “History has a delightful habit of surprising everyone, especially ‘experts’ (pg. 303).

Read it. Learn some great stuff. It’s wonderful!

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