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The Almost Nearly Perfect People [Paperback]

Michael Booth
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
RRP: £14.99
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Book Description

6 Feb 2014

As heard on Book of the Week, Radio 4

The whole world wants to learn the secrets of Nordic exceptionalism: why are the Danes the happiest people in the world, despite having the highest taxes? If the Finns really have the best education system, how come they still think all Swedish men are gay? Are the Icelanders really feral? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastical oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes?

Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years, perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic that has engulfed the rest of the world, whether it be for their food, television, social systems or chunky knitwear.

In this timely book he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success and, most intriguing of all, what they think of each other. Along the way a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterised by suffocating parochialism and populated by extremists of various shades.

They may very well be almost nearly perfect, but it isn't easy being Scandinavian.

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The Almost Nearly Perfect People + How to be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (6 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224089625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224089623
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A lively and endearing portrait of our friends in the north." (Mariella Frostrup Guardian)

"An enjoyable, funny romp through the region...[Booth's] enthusiasm is contagious." (Telegraph)

"Every page contains at least one extraordinary fact about one or other of the Nordic countries." (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday)

"A welcome rejoinder to those who cling to the idea of the Nordic region as a promised land...the substance, more often than not, is spot on." (Financial Times)

"Booth is an assiduous excavator of entertaining facts." (Damian Whitworth The Times)

Book Description

A revealing, often humorous journey through Scandinavia and its curious tribes

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Nearly Factual 13 Jun 2014
FYI: I grew up speaking English and have lived in Sweden for 15+ years. It’s impossible for me not to want to make a comment. I bought my copy at a local bookstore; sometimes I browse and buy for immediate gratification.

If you would like to be entertained - I recommend this book. If you want hard facts in preparation for business, scholarship or pleasure travel in Scandinavia - look elsewhere. If you feel you must use this book to help form attitudes – then treat it as a kind of sharp, pointed allegory or it will poke out your eyes.

Before going further, note that I use “Scandinavia” rather than “Nordic”. The two terms mean about the same. Mr. Booth uses both terms.

The book’s pace does drag in spots. Mr. Booth has done a wonderful job making a topic entertaining (alas, sometimes at the expense of the facts); face it, the book’s core topic of Scandinavian ethnography is not going to put the majority of readers on the edge of their chairs. As I like ethnology and ethnography, Mr. Booth is an entertaining writer. His words provoked a personal reflection upon my own attitudes and experiences. Someone with no Scandinavian experience who reads this book could misunderstand and later commit a social blunder at a very wrong time (e.g., when in Sweden trying to touch wine glasses and not make eye contact with all during a toast).

In his part on Sweden Mr. Booth returns to Swedish ethnologist Åke Daun a number of times. Despite his frequent use of Daun, Mr. Booth misses the point. Daun’s book, "Swedish Mentality", is very thorough. Even though Booth references it around 10 times, I’m not convinced that he read it in any detail. The book is of the type where it’s necessary to read a bit and then think about what is said.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I eagerly anticipated this book having long been fascinated by the nordic region and Denmark and Sweden in particular. Copenhagen is my favourite European city. Booth , using a " Bill Brysonesque" style of interview, history, politics,personal bias, humour and insight gradually explores and explains these reserved egalitarian societies. Finland and Iceland were new to me in all senses and these chapters I enjoyed most. If the west is to match the bric and mint countries then we all need to learn from the nordic model and how they have achieved success.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable journey through all things Nordic 10 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What`s behind the statement that the Nordic cousins are "the happiest people on the planet"? It deserves an investigation. Michel Booth a resident of Copenhagen provides a good extended synopsis; written with a dry sense of humour.
What makes these nations enjoy an unrivalled security; cradle to grave social care? The recurring concept of "hygge" (an untranslatable that means a complete absence of anything annoying). A word that appears in everyday speech in Denmark, but a concept that permeates the Nordic world. However, if all is well in the northern front, why not an en masse migration from their European cousins? However, let me say this: with the "trust" and "social cohesion" that exists in countries like Denmark, I would rather live there any day. So, Perhaps all is not well in the "state of Denmark" and its Nordic neighbours, but they are "nearly perfect". The author explores the paradoxes, and taboos that permeates the Nordic world. A great amusing and educational read. The best book I have read in the last decade.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Almost Nearly Perfect People 7 Aug 2014
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
The author has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off for ten years, and is perplexed initially how the Danes appear to be the happiest people in the world, having consistently come out top in a Satisfaction with Life index - indeed other Scandinavian countries have also done well in similar surveys. But given the author's own experiences, he wonders what makes the people of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland so unique - and so much the way that they are? Was there a Scandinavan template for a better way of living? To find out, the author has blended his own experiences with conversations with various authorities - "historians, anthropologists, journalists, novelists, artists, politicians, philosophers, scientists, elf-watchers and Santa Claus". The result is a book that is informative and factual-based, laced with humorous observations. For instance, I did not know that in Denmark "pre-empting the green man [on the crossing] is a provocative breach of social etiquette" liable to result in people tutting audibly at the transgressor.

There is much to admire in this book; it's true, I think (certainly from down here in New Zealand) that Scandinavian countries hold a certain aura of mystery about them - not only the snow-covered mountains and fjords, but also the history of these areas means that they are considered with some degree of `unknowableness' (if that's a word). So to try to encapsulate their similarities and differences as a group of people is a worthwhile endeavour, and a highly interesting read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, breaking the myths about Scandinavia.
Great fun, breaking the myths about Scandinavia.
Published 16 days ago by KEEP_SMILING_
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Interesting book, if you have a fondness for Scandavia
Published 1 month ago by Reba
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommendable.
Author displays a thorough knowledge of the four Scandinavian populations.As a Dane it was particularly interesting to learn his views on our society and the nature of our minds. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Vagn Fentz
4.0 out of 5 stars The author has a great sense of humor and makes a good job of ...
Very enjoyable and informative at the same time. The author has a great sense of humor and makes a good job of drawing a picture of all the nordic countries.
Published 1 month ago by robin
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Prompt delivery. Product as expected.
Published 1 month ago by gillcatling
5.0 out of 5 stars As a Dane living in Britain for years I have ...
As a Dane living in Britain for years I have never laughed so much and completely agree with his observations !
Published 2 months ago by karen telling
4.0 out of 5 stars A relaxed tour through Scandinavia
This is an entertaining look at contemporary Scandinavia and the author very successfully delineates the subtle differences between the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and their Nordic... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carrots
3.0 out of 5 stars I found it very amusing in parts, probably because ...
I found it very amusing in parts, probably because I have spent a lot of time in Scandinavia and recognised many of the 'types' (or stereotypes) described. Read more
Published 2 months ago by annie
5.0 out of 5 stars so made a great
Not available in the US, so made a great present
Published 2 months ago by Mad Marky
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit heavy going
As an exercise in comparing the various Nordic peoples this is reasonably successful. However I found it concentrated a bit too much on the Danes and yet failed to pick up how... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs J Johansen
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