The Nordic Theory of Everything

In Search of a Better Life
Narrated by: Abby Craden
Length: 10 hrs and 28 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (644 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 US 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.

©2016 Anu Partanen (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

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A non-radical perspective on two societies

Anu Partanen was born in Finland and, as she details near the end of the book, became a US citizen. In The Nordic Theory of Everything she details what she noticed as the differences between US and Nordic culture and offers a clear perspective on both.

While American-born citizens still look on their country as the shining example to the world of democracy and prosperity, the country frequently shows up lower than other countries in terms of health, happiness, education, and the ability of citizens to rise from poverty to higher class and income levels.. Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), on the other hand, are frequently at or near the top. 

Partanen outlines the difference in thinking about government and society in the two regions. This is not done with a radical or jingoistic attitude. She's clear that Finns might be the last to perceive their country as one of the happiest on earth and that they complain about their government as much as the citizens of any other country. But she also clears up misperceptions about Scandinavia and the "socialized" governments they contain. 

She rejects and even resents the idea that these are socialist havens. Finland, she notes, bordered the former USSR and, despite a much smaller population, lost more people than the US did in Korea and Vietnam in its fights against socialism in the 20th century. Finland also was the home of several entrepreneurial technology companies, most notably Nokia, throwing water on the notion that these countries curb free enterprise.

She states, however, that these countries are willing to invest in their young and in each other. She talks about the anxiety she felt in moving to New York City when she received a letter than her Finnish health insurance would end because she was living out of the country. She found herself having to try to understand the complex contract law that private insurers put their customers through, the oddities of learning what it means to have a job with "benefits", and the exorbitant costs of for-profit hospitals. She details the ease of a single-page Finnish tax form, leaving her with more money at the end of the year than in America paying for health care and child care out of pocket. She also wonders why employers would want to add to the work of running a business by adding the insuring of employees, or why employees would want to be financially tied to an employer (rather than each other) for the same benefit.

Partanen differentiates between "big government" and "good government". She's clear that the nations in the Nordic regions still face challenges, such as Finland's adoption of the Euro and sanctions against Russia hurting enterprise with its largest trading partner. On the other hand she sees the dangers Americans face from the stresses of a system that isn't working for them in the same way it did decades ago.

The book is a non-radical and rational look at a different way of thinking about government and society that wouldn't hurt the US to consider. She doesn't approach her arguments as a firebrand demanding change but she does provide a different perspective on an improved way of thinking about government that could offer some positive changes.

21 people found this helpful

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Left me pondering my values...

I am a libertarian. But this book left me pondering my perspective. certainly some things I disagree with, but her philosophy is worth considering.

17 people found this helpful

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interesting read!

Loved hearing about the way other countries view life and the way it could be with less emphasis on money/stress about money.
Made me a little sad for the state of American health care- what a brutal system (coming from an Aussie)

10 people found this helpful

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Every American should read this.

Loved this. The theory of Nordic love for everyone is what should be in our hearts, and if it were, we wouldn't have people like Martin Shkereli polluting our businesses. Nor would children fall through the cracks of our school systems.

4 people found this helpful

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Wow! Food for thought

As a strong supporter of free markets and small government, I found these ideais most interesting. There are one or two notes to which the author should have given better thought, but the book is excellent anyway.

3 people found this helpful

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Something is wrong and we must fix it

This is a great story, useful for Americans and citizens of the world. We have to go to the better policies of the Norseman, and became happier as a rule in our lives. This is a great analysis of what can be done and how to achieve it, thanks Anu

2 people found this helpful

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Good Deep Questions, Trite Shallow Answers

I have a love/hate relationship with this book. It is very good at making you think about what is/should be the purpose of government in the 21st century. Having never been to Finland I must take what the author says as fact. It appears that in Finland the government is relatively efficient and delivers high quality services at reasonable prices. As such the people are content with the relatively high taxes because they get so much for them. If government can remove the deep stresses of modern life why not go that way? Is it just a matter of will that the United States is so different?

Unfortunately looking at two countries at a given point in time does not touch the deeper issues as to what can be done and if it can be maintained over a long period of time. For example; the author argues that the relative effectiveness of the education system in Finland is because it is "supply side" whereas the US is "demand side". The problem with this is that the only reason that the US is becoming "demand side" is the utter failure of the supply side model in the US over the last 60-80 years or so. Places like New York City used to have really good public schools. This raises all the important questions like; does the supply side system degrade over time? Is there another reason for this systems failure in the US (perhaps the increasing national mandates overpower local approaches) As the book notes it can not be just a matter of funding as the US spends more. But the book does not discuss this.

Discussing the state of the US Health Care system and giving only one sentence to malpractice insurance and its implications almost seems like journalistic malpractice. Every time the author gets close to a really deep discussion she bounces off with either standard liberal rhetoric of quotes some politician. Her statement that Social Security and Medicare are two places where the US does a reasonably good job totally ignores the fiscal nightmare these programs have created.

There is no question that education (both primary and secondary), health care, day care, and taxes are systems in the US that are all in various levels of broken. We, as Americans, need to thoroughly study them and then fix them. Our Future depends on it. In fact I believe that the Author actually hits the crux of the matter when she states that Fins trust their government and Americans typically do not. She even goes so far as to state that American's have reason for this mistrust as we do not get much from our government relative to the money it takes. (When it comes to good government we are "at the back of the class")

So ultimately why does government work well in Finland and not so well in the US? Is it size? (after all Finland is smaller than about half the states) Perhaps more services should be handled solely at the state level as government tends to be more responsive as it gets closer to the people. Perhaps it is the democracies simply do not age well and that the US being early to the game has aged into massive bureaucracy as opposed to good government. We all recognize the need for effective government; as we have seen in US education system, pouring more money into a broken system does not tend to fix it, neither apparently, does heaping endless mandates on at the federal level.

I want our government to do for our citizens what Finland's does for theirs, I just do not see how it can in its current state of repair. The deep answers lie in how we can fix our government so it can provide us the services we deserve at a price that does not break us all. Unfortunately this book does not go there. I really wanted it to.

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loved it

inspiring audiobook to challenge your own ideas about self wellness and society. nordic theory of love is also a great alias for this book

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This headline was not optional.

Good book. Wasn't crazy about the narrator's putting on of voices. Four words to meet requirements.

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Excellent

Every American should read this. It is incredibly interesting and enlightening ... and very well written.

1 person found this helpful