Most people I’ve met in the UK know that the Union Jack should only really be called that when it’s flown at sea – when it is flown on land, it is properly known as the Union Flag. You may not know that one of the early kings of Scotland was called Kenneth, and that that is quite relevant to the development of the Union Jack/Flag we have today.
Continuing my adventures in broadening my reading, I read and thoroughly enjoyed this book, which traces the history of the Union Jack, and is thus an invigorating and exciting read for anyone even remotely interested in the history of the UK. In a time where the flag is most likely to be associated with a certain toxic form of nationalism, this book shows how this should not be the case, and has indeed not always been the case. In a time when we are as a country wrestling with a sense of who we are and how we interpret our complex and long history, this book offers an aid, tied to one of the great symbols of the UK.
Groom is a proper historian, and this shows in the sheer variety and depth of history and vexillology (the fancy word for the study of flags!) that he covers. But he is also (And this is not always the case) a good writer, which means that this book is a readable introduction to a whole host of historical issues I was under-informed about. This is a book that, in attempting to cover hundreds of years of history, forces us to think carefully about what it means to talk about the United Kingdom, and contains amused reflection on Brit-Pop (including a picture of Geri Halliwell in that dress), Tony Blair, and more serious fare such the Troubles of Northern Island and the Falklands War.
I honestly think this might be one of my books of the year – certainly in the category of history, which I’m reading a variety in and across. As I say, if you are interested in UK politics or history, this book is well worth your time.