The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia

Picador. Feb. 2015. 400p. maps. index. ISBN 9781250061966. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250061973. SOC SCI
In this historical travelog, Booth (Eating Dangerously) examines the question of what exactly makes Nordic countries—in this case Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland—consistently rank among the happiest in the world. A transplanted Englishman, Booth has embraced the culture of his new home of Denmark and takes advantage of his outsider's point of view to uncover the truth behind Nordic societies. His discussions touch a wide example of life, culture, politics, and history and include information drawn from interviews, research, news sources, and literature. There is mention of Finland's prized education system, made famous by Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World and discussion about the increasing oil production in the North Sea and its impact on both Norway and Denmark. However, Booth's narrative is tempered by his wry and often sarcastic commentary that can, at times, distract from his cogent arguments. For example, he tangentially describes the irreverent ways in which Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, and the Finnish joke about one another; especially since Finland is a former Swedish territory.
VERDICT Overall, a quick and enjoyable read that is perfect for readers interested in deeper understanding of the cultures behind the headlines. [See Prepub Alert, 7/14/14.]

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