By: Michael Booth
Published Year: 2015
Summary (Provided by Goodreads): Journalist Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians for more than ten years and has grown increasingly frustrated with the rose-tinted view of this part of the world offered up by the Western media. 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 one another.
Why are the Danes so happy despite having the highest taxes? Do the Finns really have the best education system? Are the Icelanders as feral as they sometimes appear? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastic oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes? In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Booth explains who the Scandinavians are, how they differ and why, and what their quirks and foibles are, and he explores why these societies have become so successful and models for the world. Along the way, a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterized by suffocating parochialism, and populated by extremists of various shades.
This was a recommendation from one of my coworkers. We were talking about our respective book clubs and she mentioned that this was what he book club had just finished. She started describing it to me and I (literally) immediately went to my library’s website as she stood there to request it. Honestly, just hearing the title would’ve hooked me and I love the cover. So overall, A+ on the first impressions for this book!
What I thought
I absolutely loved this book! I recently became interested in Scandinavia and it has hit me full force. This book satisfied my curiosity and taught me so much! My husband and I went to Copenhagen and Iceland on our honeymoon and that sparked my curiosity about Scandinavia. We both fell in love with Iceland and wanted to do a trip to Norway, Sweden, and Finland this year, but plans for buying a home has delayed our plans for travel. This book was a good way to satisfy some of my Scandinavian travel lust!
Booth is British but lives in Denmark with his Danish wife and children. During their first stint of living in Denmark, he couldn’t understand why it and the other Nordic/Scandinavian countries topped the list of happiest countries in the world. He is very British and I think it’s important to remember this while reading. I think if you forget that, Booth can come off as a bit over critical, but in all honesty I think he’s just British and that’s the way he grew up. Anyway, this curiosity sparked this book in which he traveled to all 5 Nordic countries to unravel the myth of the Scandinavian utopia.
The book begins with Denmark (as that’s where he has lived) and discusses their current way of living as well as touching on their past and culture and how this has shaped them into the country they are today. He also acknowledges (throughout the book actually) how a lot of these cultural habits appear to outsiders/non-Nordic people. For example, Booth talks about his experiences with hygge (which is taking the world by storm) and how the Danish experience it versus how a Brit experiences it.
Following Denmark, Booth briefly touches on Iceland (though since this book was published in 2015 it mostly discusses their 2008 economic downfall), then moves to Norway, Finland, and finally, Sweden. Sweden is the second largest section in this book followed by Norway and then Finland.
Every section of this book held my attention. He mentioned early on that a lot of people look to Scandinavia with starry eyes but then when asked about the, they don’t truly know anything. Admittedly, I am one of those people (to an extent). Learning about the brief histories and cultures of each country has only served to increase my curiosity and fascination with these countries. My husband and I have mentioned multiple times that we would gladly move to Iceland, and this book did nothing to change my mind (before you think we’re crazy, we live in Chicago which is currently a wind-chill of -24 F whereas Reykjavik is a balmy 25 F. Yes… the arctic circle is 50 degrees warmer than Chicago). After reading this book, I’d rank the Scandinavian countries I’d move to as Iceland, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and then Sweden. Though depending on the day I might flip flop Denmark and Sweden.
If you’re looking for a book about the myths and legends of Scandinavia, this is not it. This talks a lot about the recent history and the present lifestyles of the Scandinavians. It is not all positives, which I liked even more. It was a fascinating read from cover to cover, and I think that anyone who is interested in the Nordic cultures or even economy in general will find this fascinating. I’ve even been trying to convince my husband to listen to it as an audiobook!