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Blog > Book Review: Postcards: The Rise and Fall of the World's First Social Network


I’ve been excited to write this book review for a while! Lydia Pyne’s book on postcards is lovely: full-colour reproductions of a number of different interesting postcards illustrate the text, and her enthusiasm for postcards shines through on every page. She suggests that postcards were the world’s earliest social network, a way that people communicated casually across sometimes great distances, and shared something of themselves in the process. She points out that many traditional postcard designs and messages look exactly like scrolling through someone’s Instagram account, for example, which makes total sense to me.

Lydia Pine's Postcards book cover, with the title in the center and vintage postcards along the book borders.

There were a lot of fascinating anecdotes in this book. I found myself slipping in a little sticky page marker for something I wanted to come back to again and again. Admittedly, sometimes I wanted to argue with it a bit, and I was a bit confused by the fact that it didn’t even mention Postcrossing (which would, if anything, support the social network idea)—particularly when she said that nobody really sends postcards anymore.

But mostly I just found it fascinating. I think the most interesting part was the section on political postcards, and the suggestion that postcards were used explicitly to support the revolution in Russia (from early anti-imperialist postcards in the 1870s to Soviet propaganda in the 1930s). Because they were difficult to control, despite the best efforts of the state, they reached all kinds of people. The suffrage movement also involved postcards, and it’s fascinating to wonder about how they might have changed people’s minds, chipping away at their preconceptions a little bit at a time. One postcard on its own may not seem much, but it does form a connection—and it makes me think about the way that Postcrossing in particular can form connections between random people who would never meet otherwise.

I’d say that this book does exactly what I ask of a good non-fiction book: it gives me more questions than answers, about other things I’d like to learn or delve deeper into. Each chapter outlines a facet of the topic, but there’s always more to learn. I need to look out for more books to fill the gaps!

As always, I welcome new suggestions about books relating to the mail, postal systems, letters, etc—let me know any titles that come to mind via the forum (you’ll need to be logged in to view this post, and may need to browse around and participate a little before you can reply in this section of the forum). My next review will probably be about E.C.R. Lorac’s mystery, Post After Post-Mortem… but something else might grab me first: you never know.


26 comments so far

twinkletwonkle, Singapore
Wow, that's so interesting! Never knew that postcards could be linked to political movements - I always thought that was just traditional media!
Byrons_brain, United Kingdom
WOW this books sounds fantastic, I'll have to see if I can get a copy to read, I'm really interested in the history of postcards. Great Review!
remixedmediamail, United States of America
May be a good one. Will check it out.
ruthkepler, United States of America
I enjoyed thinking about postcards being the world's first social media. I also think the quantity of words thereafter has not equaled their quality.
ffuesch, Germany
... Hi I am relativly new to postcrossing and this blog. So I don't have the overview what happened in the past. Have you ever read "Going Postal" from Terry Pratchett? I think the books can amuse even when you are not familiar with the whole Discworld universe.
Flippie, Canada
Postcards are always my thing. Because I don't have a cellphone so I don't use Facebook/Instagram/Tik-Tok or texting. Of course I use e-mail but postcards or writing a letter is my Social Network and it works. People who receive my work love me for it!
And I use a homephone.....
Lesbom, United States of America
Sounds like a good read. Postcards became my main communications device when I lived in Taipei in 1994 without a phone! Traditional long distance was just too expensive for updates and regular communication. A well-written post card is an art that informs, entertains, evokes emotion, humors, and conveys relationship -- and they're always appreciated. 30 years of post cards, and postcrossings is the icing on the cake.
Kewl, Philippines
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is my current read. Not sure if it has been reviewed here. It is fiction, though, set in the 1940s about the lives of 3 women in London and Cape Cod.
Bilio, Brazil
Excellent review.
portoraj, Portugal
I just came across a new book (May 2023 publication) - Postcard by Anne Berest. The book was a finalist for the Goncourt Prize. It is a portrait of twentieth-century Parisian intellectual and artistic life and an investigation into family secrets. I haven't read it yet but hope to read it soon.
BobLucky7, United States of America
It makes me want to question the author of this book's credibility if there's no mention of Postcrossing at all in the book. Cutting corners on research maybe? The book came in Dec. 2021, there's enough tools to do a research at this time.
Robin67, Austria
As my birthday is coming up, I might ask for this book as a gift! IF someone asks me what I'd like to receive, haha!

That Postcrossing is not even mentioned (hopefully) leaves only one conclusion: that there will be another part!

Focussing on Postcrossing!

I hope! ;-)
Demmi, Romania
Nice & interesting review!
#Kudos shanaqui
k8cre8, United States of America
Leaving out Postcrossing seems a gaping hole. Add into that is the fact that postcards are STILL used in political campaigns, see Postcards to Voters ( , and I've done tons of handwritten postcards for local elections/candidates. But, I'll look for this book. Thanks!
at61, Italy
The topic of the history of postcards is really interesting!
I had never dwelt on the connections with politics, with human progress, with human relations.
Writing is usually considered the main tool for all of this (among the famous letters I recall Henry VIII's declaration of love to the last love of his life, Anne Boleyn - cause of the Anglican schism - preserved in the Vatican archives, here in Rome), but reflecting on the power of images, I can also understand the importance of postcards in history.
I conclude with a personal recollection.
I was still a kid, I received a love postcard, simply signed with initials: the image depicted was of a boy and a girl surrounded by many little hearts, and two arrows indicating "I" and "you" made it clear that the sender girl was madly in love, but she did not have the courage to reveal herself. It remained a mystery who she was, but the power of the postcard image still manages to give me a sweet smile.
noranora, Latvia
Postcard as a propaganda -yes. But postcard receiver is not anonymous and in dictatorship states as Tsarist, Soviet and Putins Russia it is not possible to send political, anti-government postcard. So political impact of a postcard I think is overrated. We now send blue-yellow cards as a message but a receiver in Russia will never get it or even worse -will be questioned by police.
sueis007, United States of America
I really like postcard when I was 10 years. Now I am 30, still obsessed with this style .
Dima1120, China
I like it, too. I really want to know the contents carefully, so that I can have a deeper understanding of postcards
ileanatr, United States of America
I'm currently reading this book and am about halfway through it. It really is fascinating!
Aguaroble, France
Very interesting, thank you!
About postcards and politics, I strongly encourage you to consult this website
Postcards may be very powerful!
Kristi-D, United States of America
Thank you. I'll add this to my reading list. And, I look forward to more of your excellent reviews!
wlczhu, China
Thanks Postcrossing for connecting the whole globe!
erinthehun, United States of America
I read the reviews and most of them mention that their no mention of postcrossing in it. I will get it at the library and check it out;
cerres, Estonia
Thank you very much! Sounds interesting specially political cards and jokes! Thanks for the link, Aguaroble!
nzsuenorth, New Zealand
Very interesting blog, I did not know that postcards were used as political propaganda. I love the concept of postcards, and love how this website has opened up the world to so many who might have never had the opportunity to experience traveling, even if it is just through a postcard delivery, it delivers a little bit of one's country to another. I will look out for this book too, but also am confused as to why this wonderful "Postcrossing" site was not mentioned. Clearly, some more research needed to be done.
nettie, Germany
Thanks for this! Speaking of political postcards, I wonder if she mentions the anti-semitic postcards that were popular at the end of the 19th Century and up through the 30s in Germany. I live in Hamburg and about 20 years ago, the communications museum here had an exhibit of some of these propaganda postcards. Pretty chilling to see.
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