The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

(10 customer reviews)


A Finnish journalist, now a naturalized American citizen, asks Americans to draw on elements of the Nordic way of life to nurture a fairer, happier, more secure, and less stressful society for themselves and their children.

Moving to America in 2008, Finnish journalist Anu Partanen quickly went from confident, successful professional to wary, self-doubting mess. She found that navigating the basics of everyday life—from buying a cell phone and filing taxes to education and childcare—was much more complicated and stressful than anything she encountered in her homeland. At first, she attributed her crippling anxiety to the difficulty of adapting to a freewheeling new culture. But as she got to know Americans better, she discovered they shared her deep apprehension. To understand why life is so different in the U.S. and Finland, Partanen began to look closely at both.

In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares and contrasts life in the United States with life in the Nordic region, focusing on four key relationships—parents and children, men and women, employees and employers, and government and citizens. She debunks criticism that Nordic countries are socialist “nanny states,” revealing instead that it is we Americans who are far more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than we realize. As Partanen explains step by step, the Nordic approach allows citizens to enjoy more individual freedom and independence than we do.

Partanen wants to open Americans’ eyes to how much better things can be—to show her beloved new country what it can learn from her homeland to reinvigorate and fulfill the promise of the American dream—to provide the opportunity to live a healthy, safe, economically secure, upwardly mobile life for everyone. Offering insights, advice, and solutions, The Nordic Theory of Everything makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild our society, rekindle our optimism, and restore true freedom to our relationships and lives.

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#29,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books) #23 in Non-US Legal Systems (Books) #25 in Comparative Politics #42 in European Politics Books

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10 reviews for The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life

  1. Dr.C.J.Singh.Wallia

    A “Must-Read” BookTHE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: In Search of a Better Lifeby Anu Partanen.Reviewed by C J Singh (Berkeley, California).A “Must-Read” Book.Noticing the high praise by Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, I purchased a copy last week. Yesterday, at the Books Inc Store, Berkeley, I attended the author’s lively presentation. She answered audience questions with precise knowledge, concision, and grace. “THE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: In Search of a Better Life,” documented with more than 400 research citations and written in highly engaging style is an excellent example of lucid critical analysis.The widely held stereotype in the US of Nordic countries is that they are “nanny states” that discourage individuality and impose high taxes. In fact, the Nordic countries foster enhanced adult individuality by minimizing dependencies on family members and employers. And their Nordic countries’ taxes are comparable to the US taxes.Just how they accomplish is convincingly detailed in the book.The subtitle “In Search of a Better Life” accurately describes the author’s view-point and tone. An immigrant to the US who arrived from Finland eight years ago, now in love with the country of her adoption, she is also proud of her heritage. Rightly so, the Nordic countries have been consistently top-ranked as the happiest. The US is not even in the top ten.Partanen offers suggestions based on the “The Nordic Theory of Love” (Chapter 2): for better “Family Values for Real” (Chapter 3); for children “Attaining Educational Success” (Chapter 4); for better health care “How Universal Health Care Could Set You Free” (Chapter 5). The titles and subtitles of the next four chapters are also equally apt: “Ask What Your Country Can Do for You”; “Bringing Back the American Dream”; “Business as Unusual: How to Run a Company in the Twenty-First Century”; “The Pursuit of Happiness: It’s Time to Rethink Success.”Recently, I posted an update of my review of the earlier edition of the most widely adopted college textbook in the US: Diane Hacker and Nancy Sumner’s “A Writer’s Reference: Eighth Edition.” Anu Partenen’s “THE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: In Search of a Better Life” merits just as wide adoption for all college students.Not only for college students, I whole-heartedly recommend this book to all readers. (May I add thatafter having posted reviews of more than 120 books on, this is the first that I recommend as a “must-read.”) — C J Singh————-

  2. Susan PD

    Should be required reading for young Americans!My husband and I were lucky enough to spend a year in Finland on a Fulbright (’88-’89) when our kids were 12, 6 and 4. We fell in love with the country and the people and consider it our second home. When we lived there, I was amazed nearly every day by what I learned about the Finnish social system– things that the Finns themselves often took for granted (until I let them know that Americans did NOT think health care/education/basic sustenance etc. were a human right). As a result of their humane social system, I found most people there more relaxed about themselves, their family life and their futures than almost any American I knew. Finally Anu Partenan has written a meticulously researched book that explains exactly what we witnessed and the philosophy behind it. I loved the book, found it profoundly true, and just ordered a stack of copies for the young people on my holiday list as I truly believe it is what we need to be fighting for. When I lived in Finland, I often said “if American women (in particular but men too) knew what my Finnish friends had, they’d be rioting in the streets.” Read it and share it…..maybe even send it to your member of Congress this holiday season.

  3. R. M.

    What You Needed To Know About the Nordic Miracle But Didn’t Know To AskThe Nordic Theory of Everything is an eye opening comparison of the socio-economic structures supporting (or not supporting) the Nordic nations (primarily the author’s home country of Finland) and the current United States, by a writer whose life has bridged both worlds. We in the United States are fed a distorted view of life in nations like Finland, possibly to support systems in the United States that no longer work and haven’t for some time. This book clears up many misunderstandings about the Nordic point of view. Both nations have their good and bad points but while the Nordic countries are overcoming the issues that beset all developed nations, overall progressing into the 21st Century, the United States in many ways is falling behind the other developed nations by clinging to a mythology based in a bygone era. The author addresses shortcomings in the Nordic philosophy and well as her admiration for the good qualities of her adopted home in America as well. All in all a revealing and balance look at both philosophies of how to run a society.

  4. Lucy

    Inspired many questions and more researchI learned a great deal about life in Finland from this book. I agree with reviewers who say they would love for our politicians here in the US to read it. Our country is terribly flawed, broken, corrupt, and life here is hard although we are constantly told it is the greatest nation on Earth thanks to our “freedom”, which is not real. With that said, simply based on the number of illegal immigrants in this nation, how could we emulate this government structure? There must be people there who do not contribute. What percentage of the population in Finland comprises those who do not contribute? How does that population receive benefits if they’re undocumented? The author offers a lot of opinions and, I felt, was quite critical of the United States, but what I would like to know is specifically where we stand currently financially with what it costs us as a nation to care for illegal immigrants educationally or medically, for example. Perhaps adopting this structure and eradicating our high insurance or education costs personally would mean we could all chip in for our taxes and take care of everyone medically, in retirement, etc. and not be in such terrible debt? In satisfying the curiosity that was sparked from reading this, I Googled Finland’s immigration policies. It turns out that this is a growing issue there too and apparently some years ago an offer was made to help illegal immigrants make their way back home if they left voluntarily. That was followed by a comment that here in the US there is a pro-illegal immigrant sector of our population which thinks that is unacceptable. Problem number one is that the people of the US can agree on very little. How could we agree on such a fundamental change to everything we know, even if it is corrupt? Back to immigration, Finland has apparently welcomed some refugees, but from the articles I discovered they are already realizing that not all cultures integrate well. One article I found on indicates there is much anti-refugee sentiment and the mostly Lutheran country is highly polarized on the topic. With all the pro-free education the author raves about, how are they educating children who do not speak the languages in the Finnish utopia? Is anyone angry their children’s learning is slowed as they sit in classes with children who need more attention because they don’t speak the languages or is it all about the love? I am curious how this will play out over time and whether there will still be an overarching feeling of love for all people when the dreaded resentment Anu discusses arises for those who do not wish to assimilate or contribute. I am curious how this is being handled, and how it will be handled as the immigrant populations, in some cases with such different customs, expectations, and beliefs, grow in the Nordic countries. Quick side note, the author mentions that the US government is able to manage some things well and mentions social security as a success. The book seems well researched, although I always keep in mind data can be interpreted differently, but last I heard Social security is a disaster. So I take all of this with great interest, but wanting more facts. With all this said I must admit this conservative reader who eschews big government is intrigued by how the Nordic countries live and by the concept of love and desire for the good of all. Could smarter government here in the US enhance quality of life for everyone? We have an incredibly long way to go to get there, but this book opened my eyes to what could be.

  5. Steve LQ

    Essentially the Nordic theory of love offers care for its people from prenatal life to …The author makes absolutely clear what the differences are between the way the U.S.and the Nordic governments operate on behalf of their citizens. Essentially the Nordic theory of love offers care for its people from prenatal life to retirement and old age in such ways that their citizens do not have to worry about money at every stage of their lives, like American citizens do. Heavy on footnotes (over 300) and bibliography, Anu Partanen presents a carefully detailed comparison of all aspects of life in the U.S., particularly education and health care, at the same time as she exults in her American citizenship. Down-to-earth, almost conversational, this book is a must-read for anyone who mistakenly dismisses the Nordic countries as “socialist” without understanding how their systems really work.

  6. R. Patrick Baugh

    Scandinavia – Good, U.S. – BadA mostly negative review of the U.S., not sure why the author bothered to become a U.S. citizen when everything she sees about us stinks. While a lot of her arguments may have merit, the way she presents them is very anti-U.S., leaving this reader feeling like she should have remained in Finland if the U.S. is so horrible.

  7. D. Long

    Unexpected GemI bought this book to learn about my Norse heritage. This book is so much more than that. Partaken covers the history of social democracy in the Nordic countries. It also unlocked a new perspective for me on my childhood in Scandinavian community in Illinois.Highly recommended for anyone wanting to explore the history and success of the Nordic social welfare system and the philosophy behind enabling every citizen to be free through provision of the basics of life.Anyone interested in social justice will benefit by reading bthis book

  8. AJ

    Helps One Understand Exactly Why America Is Not So GreatThis should be required reading for politicians. Quite simply eye opening even for a progressive such as myself on why America is in the dark ages when it comes to parental leave, childcare, education, healthcare and more. What’s more it manages to strike a hopeful, not depressing albeit urgent tone, and the amount of footnotes and research put in is impressive. She comments on something in the beginning – an underlying sense of anxiety in Americans – that simply does not exist because of the social support structures in Nordic Countries. Anu explains how tragically Americans blame themselves for this anxiety, instead of seeing it for what it is: a lack of support that should be provided by the government as it is in most developed countries. And for any of you uneducated folks who still think that free healthcare, free college or free daycare is unrealistic for America, she lays out exactly the evidence needed to prove you wrong, and prove how it benefits society and results in higher employment/better education results/etc

  9. blue.ribbon

    Finland versus the USThere are lessons to be learned from tiny Nordic countries. Absolutely. However, after reading again and again about the superiority of the “Nordic theory of love” it grates to learn that the author, a Finn, became a US citizen.

  10. James R. Webb

    what a wonderful easy-to-understand comparison and contrast between Scandinavian and USA valuesWow: what a wonderful easy-to-understand comparison and contrast between Scandinavian and USA values, motivations, policies and other cultural artifacts. Anu describes so artfully her increasing awareness of integrating these notions and, by her example, shows us a way of doing the same. She offers to the reader much to consider and contemplate, including one’s assumptions about Scandinavian or Nordic education, healthcare, economy, public policy, temperament, religion, globalization, quality of life and happiness. I have a suspicion that Ms. Partanen is an example of a lifelong learner, explorer and model of vulnerability and wisdom. What a honor to get to know her and her family this way.

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