The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind The Myth Of The Scandinavian Utopia, by Michael Booth
It is hard to tell whether the author really wished to damn the Scandinavian cultures with faint praise by exposing the darker side of the supposed utopia that exists in the region or whether the author was trying to praise the countries while also discussing some areas of improvement that they can make. In reading this book, I did not feel as if the Scandinavian countries would be remotely ideal for someone like myself, which is why I have never considered living there, even though I would like to visit and make my own critical comments based on what my own experiences there would be. Given the way that the societies of Scandinavia reward mediocrity and tend to be hostile to those who are odd, who stand out, and who are religious, such societies would not be ones that I would consider as the sorts of places where I would feel comfortable. The author, to his discredit, does apparently feel comfortable enough to live in Denmark with his Danish wife and to show horror that far right parties have media figures who appear pretty reasonable when he talks to them in person, even if he (and others) view them as far more extreme than they would appear.
This particular book is divided into five parts with numerous smaller chapters as the author seeks to uncover what is at the core of what it means to be Scandinavian. He begins in Denmark, where he happens to live, and explores Danish history, politics, literature, culture, and cuisine. He discusses the high tax rates and crumbling infrastructure of areas outside of the regions big cities in most countries, complains about the smugness of hygge and the delusion of Danish happiness. He then goes to Iceland and explores their risky behavior and their ambivalent relationship with Denmark. After that the author goes to Norway and looks at the way that oil wealth there has sabotaged the work ethic and creativity of the Norwegians. He then discusses Finland in a few chapters, looking at their drinking, their relationship with Sweden and Russia, as well as the taciturn nature of the Finnish and their love of saunas. He turns his attention to Sweden and looks at the problematic nature of Scandinavian royalty as well as the immigration problems that have beset Sweden and which the nation seems in denial about, having found in Sweden the quintessential Scandinavian culture by which all others are compared. After that he concludes with an epilogue, acknowledgements, and an index.
Are the Scandinavians an almost-perfect people? Not really. To be sure, there are some things that they have done well, like providing the sort of culture where mediocre people who do not stand out and who are content with trusting government to provide many of their needs can do moderately well, for the most part. If such a fate is not all that appealing to you, then there are probably going to be many issues that you have with these societies. In many cases, the apparent success of the Scandinavian countries appears to be due to problems with bias and definitions, but there are certainly a lot of people, particularly those with political views left of center, that will find these societies appealing, not least because they are mediocre people of a highly secularist bent who don’t stand out, don’t have much ambition or drive, and trust government to take care of them. If this does not apply to you, though, as a reader, you will probably find a great deal in this book that is horrifying, and you will wonder why the author is not more savage than he is about the myths of the culture of Scandinavia.