The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
by Anu Partanen
Harper, 2016. 432 pgs. Nonfiction
Anu Partanen lived most of her happy, comfortable life in Finland, where she worked as a journalist. When she fell in love with and married an American, though, her life was turned upside down. She moved to New York and expected to adjust quickly, but she soon found that things that were simple back home were remarkably difficult in the United States. Taxes, childcare, education, and healthcare were far more difficult to navigate and much less effective than she was expecting. Curious about why she struggled so much, Partanen began investigating the differences between her native and adopted homelands.
Partanen bases her explanations of Scandinavian culture around the Nordic Theory of Love, which argues that meaningful relationships can only exist between equals. Her book is both an explanation of why Nordic countries are so successful in caring for their citizens and a defense against American critics of the socialist “nanny state.” Americans tend to be wary of dependence on the government, but Partanen argues that in our society we instead develop (what she sees as unfair) dependence on employers and family members. When jobs or family structures fall through, desperate situations can arise. She discusses how Scandinavians tend not to resent taxes because everyone, not just the poor, receives excellent benefits. They see exactly where their tax dollars go. She also points out that people living entirely off welfare are extremely rare in Nordic countries.
I enjoyed both Partanen’s story and her research. Though unlikely to convince everyone because of its tendency to gloss over the complexity of certain issues and the problems in Scandinavian societies, The Nordic Theory of Everything does offer excellent explanations for why Scandinavians do things the way they do. As for me, I’m basically ready to move to Denmark.