Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Perfect?...not so much

The Almost Nearly Perfect People –Behind The Myth of Scandinavian Utopia – Michael Booth (Picador)

Up front admission…In all honesty I haven’t really spent much time thinking about Scandinavian countries…alright if I am being really honest…I have not spent any waking moment thinking about Scandinavian countries. Okay…I might have spent a few idle moments thinking about…okay dreaming about the fabled Swedish Bikini Team from the long running beer commercials, but that is really it.

So when I set out to read The Almost Nearly Perfect People –Behind The Myth of Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth I did give some passing thought to the intriguing writing of the late Steig Larsson, Henning Mankel and Thom Rob Smith’s book The Farm, which is set in a remote corner of Sweden and Steve Van Zandt’s hilarious Netflix creation Lilyhammer and it got me to wondering what might be in the water in those parts.

I think Booth rightly points out that if you fall prey to the pandering of the Western media with its stories rife with claims of a utopian culture chock full of wonderful caring people who happily subject themselves to onerous taxes, flights of social engineering and international neutrality when it comes to foreign policy.

Booth ventures forth from his adopted home in Denmark to wend his way through all five of countries that make up Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. Along the way he makes some eye opening discoveries about the so-called almost perfect people; maybe the folks who gave us Ikea aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Sales of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications are rampant among the Scaninavians; maybe that explains why they are supposedly so darn happy. Quick name the last truly great innovation to come out of Scandinavia? And no the Swedish bikini team doesn’t count! Perhaps the 70%(!) tax rate has had a stifling impact on the desire to innovate.

Booth does an entertaining job of weaving his story, sprinkling in just enough laugh out loud commentary to stand up next to the facts of the case he makes. It’s easy to see why some are comparing his work to that of journeyman travel chronologist Bill Bryson.

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