My review of The Almost Nearly Perfect People first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. I was very intrigued by the sound of this book because of my interview with Brock Clarke (and review of his novel The Happiest People in the World) as well as stories in the news about the Scandinavian countries.
First line (of the Introduction): "Early one dark April morning a few years ago I was sitting in my living room in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, wrapped in a blanket and yearning for spring, when I opened that day's newspaper to discover my adopted countrymen had been anointed the happiest of their species in something called the Satisfaction with Life Index, compiled by the Department of Psychology at the University of Leicester."
The Danish carry the title "happiest people on Earth" courtesy of the Gallup World Poll and the United Nations World Happiness Report. Norwegians are the richest people, thanks to their healthy supply of black gold. And the Finnish claim the best education system. Scandinavia as a whole enjoys a glowing reputation around the globe.
However, British travel writer Michael Booth thinks this international notoriety is slightly misappropriated, so he's set out to examine each of the five countries, their assets as well as their shortcomings. Delivered with a light-hearted, humorous tone, Booth shares data, history, anecdotes and his own personal experiences--being married to a Dane and having lived in Denmark--as they relate to the individual nations.
Speaking to economic, political, sociological and other experts--including Santa Claus--Booth plays Devil's advocate with pragmatic questions like how can the Danes be so happy when they pay the highest taxes? Or cultural conundrums such as why are the Finns so obsessed with their saunas? Quick to point out when the authorities seem to have their heads "buried in the sand," Booth is also open to new theories and follows their leads in fascinating directions, like a Swedish crayfish party.
Booth visits each country independently, but adheres the components of this corner of Europe through their views--often comically unfavorable--of each other.
The good, the bad, the ugly and the amusing of The Almost Nearly Perfect People make this tromp through the Nordic countries both educational and entertaining. Whether readers are intimately familiar or ignorantly foreign, there's something for everyone to take away.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781250061966) from Picador.