Understanding how their different designs came into existence, and the multiple ways in which they are applied, is the driving force through this book. As you might expect, fairly comprehensive overviews of national histories can be revealed simply by unpicking the symbolism, particularly those with overtly religious or cultural imagery, and Marshall guides us through this myriad of stories admirably.
In fact, in many ways it is the complete symbolic irrelevance of some flags to the contemporary identity of their host country which can be most fascinating. This leads to no lack of enthusiasm for the flags in question, which makes you wonder how much design actually matters. Nevertheless, countries across the world that relatively recently wrestled free of their various authoritarian regimes have had to quickly create designs which they feel best tell the story of their nations. This has certainly led to some interesting results (the AK-47 assault rifle on the flag of Mozambique immediately comes to mind). A concluding chapter reminds us that flags can be symbolically powerful for far more than just nationalities. Everything from the European Union to the so-called Islamic State, the rainbow flag to the Jolly Roger, is deeply layered in meaning, and can stimulate powerful and wildly varying emotions.