A History Of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, & Iceland, by T.K. Derry
Do you like 400 page long history books about Scandinavia from the 1970’s that are written from a left-wing politically biased point of view? If so, this book is the book for you. As someone who greatly enjoys reading about the history of Scandinavia , I especially liked the first half of this book, which covered some often-neglected history in the period before the 19th century. Unfortunately, the second half of the book was filled with a great deal of tedious social history and the author’s obvious bias towards left wing political parties of the socialist variety. As someone whose feelings about socialism are strongly negative, this was perhaps not the best option to win my support. The book’s informational value, particularly about the earlier history of Scandinavia is thankfully worthwhile even with the author’s tiresome and incorrect political worldviews. It is obvious, given the contents of this book, that the author feels a bit insecure about how these countries are viewed, and that insecurity actually makes the book more endearing, as someone who appreciates try harder more than not trying at all except trying to be cool.
In terms of its contents, this book offers a lot of content, and likely more than most readers will want. Speaking personally, I am fond of political and military and diplomatic history, and this book certainly has a lot of that, but the book also has a lot of left-wing industrial and social history which I found quite tiresome and monotonous. The author would have been better to torch his Social Democrat card before writing this book. The book begins with a chapter on the Unknown North in the depths of prehistory and then looks at the history of the Viking Age and the early Christian period. After that the author writes about the ill-fated Kalmar Union, the age of the Lutheran Kingdoms, and two chapters about the fateful struggle between Denmark-Norway and Sweden (among others) for the dominion of the Baltic. Chapters on the 18th century (after the Great Northern War) and the Napolenonic Wars follow which show the divergent fate of the various nations and states of the region. At this point the book is about halfway done and it suddenly becomes a lot more detailed with discussions about the rise of Nationalism, the fate of small powers in the shadow of great empires, two chapters on the contributions the Nordic peoples have made to civilization (one for the 19th and one for the 20th century that closes the book), as well as discussions about the aspirations of the Northern neutrals between 1914 and 1939, the impact of the Second World War, and a survey of the early Cold War period through the 1970’s.
In many ways, this book is already obsolete, and so to subject it to heavy criticism is rather like beating a dead horse. That said, since Scandinavia is still viewed as a model for those who believe in the power of government to better the general public in the present age, it is still necessary to lay the boom hammer on this book’s misguided political worldview, where the author demonstrates the way that Scandinavian countries have frequently engaged in disarmament only to find their rights not respected by their more powerful neighbors, engaged in all kinds of political chicanery, and unable to unite despite a great deal of common cultural and linguistic (except for Finland) traits and background. Despite the author’s progressive political worldview, there is an undercurrent of tragedy that these small and mostly homogeneous nations have been so ill-served in a world full of massive and powerful empires who simply have pushed them around since the beginning of the 19th century. One can almost hear the author saying that it’s not fair, but it’s also not fair to backload this book so that so much more detail is given to the vastly less enjoyable aspects of the history of the Scandinavian nations rather than the military and diplomatic and political history–minus the author’s unfortunate politics–that are much more interesting.
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