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A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power and…
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A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of National Symbols

by Tim Marshall

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Best for: People interested in world politics.

In a nutshell: Tim Marshall examines many (though not all) of the flags of nations, as well as flags of political movements and other organizations as a way to examine what these symbols mean to people.

Worth quoting:
“The people of the nations of Europe have stubbornly resisted becoming one, not because they don’t like each other but because they like themselves.”

Why I chose it: I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Marshall’s examination of how geography influences world politics (https://cannonballread.com/2018/02/geopolitics-101/), so I was excited to see he has other books on somewhat similar topics. Considering what’s going on in the US with the national anthem, NFL, and protests against racial injustice, this seemed especially appropriate.

Review:
Can you make flags interesting? If you’re Tim Marshall, you can, and you do. I inhaled this book, finishing it over the course of two days while on vacation (in Portugal, whose flag includes a coat of arms that dates back to the 1100s). It’s not just an explanation of the symbolism of flags (though it is that); it’s a look at how the flags are viewed by those who fall under them, and by those who are outside them.

The book starts out with chapters on the US flag and the UK flag; I learned some new things about my own nation’s flag, and about the flag of my current home nation. It was interesting to be reminded of how the US flag is often burned abroad, and how the flags of both the US and UK have been co-opted at times by far-right nationalist groups that might make other residents of those nations uncomfortable with displaying them.

From these two deep dives into imperial nations, the book shifts to focusing on themes along different types of flags. Mr. Marshall looks at many flags of the EU member nations (and the EU flag itself), the flags in the Middle East, flags that are meant to invoke fear, flags in Asia, flags in Africa, flags in South America, and a smattering of others (including the Jolly Rodger and the Red Cross).

The book is full of some fun facts that you might find useful at a pub quiz or when playing trivial pursuit (1/6 of the world’s flags have Christian symbolism on them!), but it’s also full of interesting observations about what it means to have a flag, and what a flag can mean for a people, or a movement. June is Pride month in the US, and there is discussion of the rainbow flag in this book. While you might not be clear on what each of the six stripes represents (don’t worry, Mr. Marshall will inform you), you know what it means when you see it. That’s powerful. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jun 6, 2018 |
Good if you need bits of trivia to share at dinner parties. The premise of the book sounded quite intriguing. What are flags? Why do we use flags to represent nations? Why are there certain protocols and procedures when treating certain flags? How have flags changed over time? Author Marshall takes the reader though that question.
 
Countries, entities like the European Union and their member states, flags of revolution, flags of particular groups, etc. all get a look. From the US Stars and Stripes to the Olympic flag the author gives a look at the history, how it changed, variations, bits of trivia and the like. Some countries like the US get a greater focus (and indeed, the US flag is the first one examined). Some like the countries that make up the EU have a few paragraphs. 
 
I liked the idea but overall I didn't think it was great. As other reviews note it's not an academic work so don't expect a great deal of historical explanations or detail. One huge detriment for me was that kept wishing there were pictures embedded in the text instead of slapped in the middle of the book. Yes, pictures can be distracting. But when discussing the changes of a flag I would have found it much more helpful if there were pictures running along the text.
 
The book seemed very relevant especially in light of the Confederate flag being removed from official buildings and appearing in protests. But I honestly felt like this was a guy talking about a quirky interest he has in flags at a dinner party. I haven't read Marshall's other work but based on what I know of it I'm wondering if this work might have been some sort of side project or off-shoot of his 'Prisoners of Geography' work that wasn't quite relevant for that book and ended up being shuffled into its own text.
 
Mildly interesting but I didn't like it as much as I hoped I would. Borrow from the library. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Not as good as his map book. It was a little bitty and just a little disappointing. ( )
  expatscot | Sep 20, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 178396281X, Hardcover)

When you see your nation's flag fluttering in the breeze, what do you feel?; For thousands of years flags have represented our hopes and dreams. We wave them. Burn them. March under their colours. And still, in the 21st century, we die for them. Flags fly at the UN, on the Arab street, from front porches in Texas. They represent the politics of high power as well as the politics of the mob.; From the renewed sense of nationalism in China, to troubled identities in Europe and the USA, to the terrifying rise of Islamic State, the world is a confusing place right now and we need to understand the symbols, old and new, that people are rallying round.; In nine chapters (covering the USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, international flags and flags of terror), Tim Marshall draws on more than twenty-five years of global reporting experience to reveal the histories, the power and the politics of the symbols that unite us - and divide us.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 07 Dec 2016 10:20:13 -0500)

From the renewed sense of nationalism in China to troubled identities in Europe and the USA, to the terrifying rise of Islamic State, the world is a confusing place right now and we need to understand the symbols, old and new, that people are rallying around. For thousands of years, flags have represented our hopes and dreams. We wave them. Burn them. March under their colors. And still, in the twenty-first century, we die for them. Flags fly at the UN, on Arab streets, from front porches in Texas. They represent the politics of high power as well as the politics of the mob. In nine chapters covering the USA, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, international flags, and flags of terror, Tim Marshall examines the systems of symbols that represent nation states and non-state actors (including ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas) and how they figure in diplomatic relations and events today.… (more)

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