Well, after starting this page up yesterday and deciding to include the Neil Gaiman collection that I had just finished as part of the list, I decided to get really stuck in with some hardcore vexillology. For those who don’t know, vexillology is the study of flags, and what better way to start this off with Tim Marshall’s “Worth Dying For: the Power and Politics of Flags”.
I first encountered Marshall through his previous work in geopolitics, and his last publication, the groundbreaking “Prisoners of Geography” (2014), which is a fascinating collection of essays on how cartography and natural geographical formations affect the modern political stage. As a follow up to such an important and insightful work, I’m interested to see how “Worth Dying For” compares.
At 100 pages, and having vexillologically traversed the United States, the British Empire, and a great deal of Europe, I’m not quite as taken with it as I was with Marshall’s previous essays. The delivery is similarly witty and analytical, but it does feel more like a larger collection of anecdotes with a vague amount of political insight than it does a real collection of essays. At times, it is almost reminiscent of The Big Bang Theory’s “Dr. Sheldon Cooper Presents Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s ‘Fun With Flags'”, which, if you have never come across, you can find here for comparison.
Still, it is a pretty interesting take on geopolitics. There are quite a few snippets of information, albeit incredibly nerdy ones, that I hadn’t come across before (like did you know that the yellow triangle on the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina symbolises the shape of the country?) I also think I’m finally beginning to understand why the Americans get so riled up about their particular piece of cloth compared to the much more laid back attitude of we Europeans, but that’s a conversation for another time. Even if the grammar makes it a downright confusing read sometimes (use the Oxford Comma, for the love of-), and the facts are sometimes wrong (Belarus is NOT the only European Nation State not in the Council of Europe; neither Kosovo nor the Vatican City are either), it’s still a decent follow up. However, I’ll have to read the other 200-odd pages before conclusively saying that “Prisoners of Geography” is better.
– Simon James Chisholm