2017 Book 2: The Almost Nearly Perfect People

Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, by Michael Booth

Following Superforecasting, I picked up (digitally) a book I bought last year but didn’t get round to reading then: an exploration of the culture of the Nordics, well known as almost utopian, perfect societies but (like any country or society) with their downsides.

It’s definitely an interesting, engaging read. It’s well-researched: he explores a good variety of viewpoints and meets with a wide range of different people of different backgrounds and political leanings throughout his travels. There are all sorts of amusing, intriguing and surprising snippets of cultural insight that I certainly wouldn’t have got otherwise.

Unfortunately, it was all marred somewhat by the tone of the book, which didn’t sit well with me. It felt like he decided, well in advance of his research and his travels, that he was going to write a book about the failings of the Nordic countries, and then went looking for evidence. To me he came across as a bit smug and superior, overly critical and dismissive. This is especially driven home in the Epilogue where he spends a few pages gushing enthusiastically about how the Nordics are incredible, unstoppable and generally brilliant, completely out of step with how unrelentingly critical he had been throughout the rest of the book.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh. Like I said, it was genuinely very interesting, engaging and filled with insights. It was well-written, as much of a page-turner as a non-fiction book can be, and amusing too. It just felt like a personality clash, like someone your friends rave about but who you just don’t click with.