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Customer Review

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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