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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 7 August 2014
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. The author's own take on life's little quirks that he finds in his travels make for many humorous interjections in the narrative, which is great as some of it can be a little dry and statistical as he tries to break down the secret of the Scandinavian way of life.

This is a highly engaging, really informative and vastly interesting book - I know now that the Danes have the highest taxes in the world, that Finns have the third largest per capita gun ownership in the world and that 54 per cent of Icelanders believe in the existence of elves. I'm really glad I read this book, and really glad the author took the vast leap into writing it. The Scandinavian air of mystery remains, but I feel better informed for it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2014
I really enjoyed this book. Michael Booth has a great sense of humor. He respectfully, but critically takes on the so-called Nordic Miracle. He writes about the positives and the negatives of the region. He bursts the bubble of several of the myths and also updates the reader on the changes that have taken place in the region over the last several years. I came away still respecting the Nordic countries a great deal, but with a more in-depth understanding of each of the nations and their people. I did not wait for this book to be available in the United States. I ordered it as soon as I saw it in British newspapers and I am not disappointed. In fact, I ordered several copies to give to friends.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 January 2015
Laughing is a social thing. It’s something you do with other people, or at the very least in their presence. Something needs to be positively hilarious to make you laugh by yourself or alone in the company of strangers in the tube. This book is so funny it had me doing exactly that more than once. It is hilarious.

So here’s me in the tube on my way to work starting this book and on page 8 I find out that the “ultimate spellchecker booby trap” is none other than the Nordic invader of Britain, king Cnut (Canute to you and me).

That set the tone. From then on it got funnier.

The research is superficial. If a high school student had submitted this volume of work as a research paper I would have given him an B+ and if a college Senior had pretended this was his research thesis I would have given him either the lowest passing grade (and him and I would share that joke for the rest of our lives) or an outright F, as in “fail.” And given the author has interviewed a good twenty luminaries from around Scandinavia to produce this 400 page volume I think I can state with some certainty that he was doing an Ali G on them. He lives there, of course, he needs to pretend this was research, but all that research has been done a thousand times.

And that’s the whole point. If you are a car fanatic you don’t watch Top Gear. It’s only tangentially about cars, even though it invites car people regularly and involves lots of driving. The program is about Jeremy Clarkson doing very embarrassing (but car-themed) stuff in a very embarrassing way. And it’s unbelievably funny in a very British way.

That’s the spirit of this book. The author interviews professors, researchers and politicians and puts to them theories along the lines of “you Swedish are trying to atone for taking the German side in WWII” and the poor fellows take him seriously rather than kick him out the door. And the prose is just unbelievably funny.

It’s not a serious or a necessary book and you would not miss it if it had never been written. It’s nowhere near as informative as buying the five separate “Xenophobe’s Guides” and reading them back to back. It's a hilariously set list of hunches and prejudices of a leftward-leaning, Nordic-loving Brit. Which makes it a cracking read.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2014
I was intrigued by this book, having lived in Norway for the last 6 years or so. The various interactions in the comment sections of various Guardian articles gave a taste of things to come - the English humor and overly serious Nordic responses.
However, in the book, the author comes across as a serious Nordophile who is genuinely interested in understanding what made the place like it is. His approach is - surprisingly - well balanced, looking at many social characteristics and traditions; and weighing up many different explanations from reports, popular sociology theorizing (although he seems to have missed out of Putnam for social capital!) and interviews with leading (and, sometimes, slightly dodgy) academics and politicians. Overall, this makes the book a real contribution to the conversation many of us ex-pats have regularly around the coffee machine.

At the same time, it contains tremendous insights into various Nordic social mores, many of which I recognize (even Danish ones, common in Norway); but have not seen or heard described as well before. The potted histories are good - touching on important things, although missing out a few impotent events (eg the UK having to abandon Norway at the start of WW2, that the Norwegian sovereign fund was the idea of an Iranian, but then, it's not a history book), and giving a good overview of how the countries see each other, as well as think of themselves.

Of course real people don't fit nicely into potted analysis of national characters. But it's the exceptions which prove that there is a rule - and much of what's written here is palpable in daily life.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 22 February 2014
You know that moment when you're a couple of chapters into a new book and you're enjoying it so much that you turn to the front to see what else the author has written? This is one of those. It's a delightful and thought-provoking analysis of the Nordic countries; I'm particularly impressed with his range of enquiry, which runs from the minute details of social interaction through to some pretty penetrating economic and political analysis, taking in several centuries of history on the way. It's a book that I'll be recommending to friends esteemed for their curiosity, because I can imagine how much pleasure it'll give.

One thing I did want to say, though: this was Book Of The Week on Radio 4, and for once I think that the editing didn't do it justice. The reading concentrated too much on the trivial (and on the intra-Nordic rivalries, which are fiercer than I knew); so much so that I was surprised - pleasantly - when I found that the author gives more in-depth analyses of more serious subjects. It's much more than the advanced 'misogynist guide' that the radio programme conveyed.

It has, of course, made me want to visit almost everywhere, although I've now been warned not to expect too much by way of chatty conversation, to be prepared for very high prices, and at all costs to avoid any delicacy made from shark. And if I were lucky enough to be more than a hovering tourist, this book will have helped me understand much more of what I'm experiencing. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2015
The book is badly researched and full of errors. Here are some of the most blatant ones about Iceland:
1) Booth maintains two times that Iceland, a former colony of Denmark, got its independence thanks to Adolf Hitler because when Germans invaded Denmark the bond between Denmark and Iceland was severed. The actual fact is that Iceland got sovereignty with a treaty in 1918 because of the Icelandic struggle of independence. According to the treaty Iceland and Denmark would have the same king, but the treaty could be reconsidered after 1940 if either nation wished. Therefore Iceland had the full right to sever the bond with Denmark after 1940 and actually the German invasion of Denmark delayed the process. Originally Icelanders intented to wait until Denmark got free, but people got impatient after a couple of years so the Icelandic republic was established in 1944.
2) On page 143 Booth says: "Middle-aged Icelanders told me that, at school, most of their books had been in Danish." This is utter nonsense! I am middle-aged myself and all my school books were in Icelandic, except the books for learning Danish and English, which very naturally were in Danish or English.
3) Booth says that early Iceland was a "lawless" place with "no king, no army, just a ragbag of law mostly concerned with the apparently pressing issue of incest". The truth is that Iceland was governed by a parliament (yes, it is possible to govern a country without a king) and the parliament set the laws. And of course there were not more laws about incest in Iceland than in any other country in the middle ages, regardless of what Booth imagines.
It is all right to read this book as a joke, but don't expect to get real information from it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2014
As a Dane living in Britain for years I have never laughed so much and completely agree with his observations !
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2015
Very interesting read about Nordic culture. I have read many hundreds of books about different cultures around the world and have found this to be in my number one slot. Well written , well researched and not too dry with a dash of humour. As an early years specialist in education I have always felt irritated by our governments ill informed desire to copy the Swedish educational system without having fully researched the rationale behind this system. Trying to port a piece of a semi totalitarianism culture into the British educational system is laughable. However we do have our " professionals in government" who have absolutely no understanding why this would not work in our culture. I take my hat off to the Author of this book and can't wait for his next read. Ps: early years specialists must read this book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2014
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. The use of numerous sets of statistics (some scientific, others less so) were, on the whole, less interesting and I skipped large chunks.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2014
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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