Book Review: The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen / by Emilia Morano-Williams

I’m drinking Swedish coffee from a Moomin mug while listening to Lukas Graham and wearing a Marimekko scarf over my Cos dress. I didn’t need to be convinced by Anu Partanen’s argument in her book The Nordic Theory of Everything—I already dreamt the Nordic dream. I believe that a modern country should provide its citizens with free education, universal health care, and generous vacation days. And I believe that America is in peril because it offers none of the above.

This is the crux of Partanen’s admittedly predictable argument: in the 21st century, Nordic countries practice the American dream better than America itself. You’re not reading The Nordic Theory of Everything to understand this. Instead, you read with a pace reserved for romances and thrillers because Partanen’s commentary offers something revolutionary: hope.

Partanen grew up in Finland and moved to New York after falling in love with an American. But she didn’t fall in love with America. At least not after seeing bums sleeping on the subway and getting a headache filling in tax forms as a freelancer. Unimpressed? Partanen’s dismay at these everyday American affairs proves her point: in comparison to Finland and its Nordic brethren, America fails to secure a high-quality life for all citizens.

In the hands of a lesser author, this message would be inflammatory. But Partanen’s comparisons and juxtapositions illustrate how American society could once again embody the American dream. Her belief in this dream permeates every page.

True, Partanen could give more actionable steps and she could be more realistic about the differences between governing the United States and a small, relatively homogenous Nordic country (at one point, she does mention that States could implement education strategies like the Nordic countries have had success with, but she doesn’t elaborate). But to nit-pick on the lack of to-do lists overlooks the book’s message. Partanen doesn’t want to tell Americans how to correct our society, but rather to inspire us as to America’s potential. And, just a bit, to rile us up at a foreigner’s brazen critique.

It is a critique we need. Unfortunately, the struggle will be encouraging those resistant to listen. As The New York Times mentions in their review, if you didn’t start the book convinced that America needs to become more Nordic, Partanen probably won’t convince you. Thus, it falls to the inspired reader to, armed with data and facts, disseminate her message. Us Americans need to promote a vision of our country as a community that cares for each other—and where everyone is worthy of equal care.