Author: Anu Partanen
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Summary: A bit repetitive and a mix of uplifting and depressing, but I really enjoyed learning about the government and social structure of other countries.
When Finnish journalist Anu Partanen moved to the United States, she found herself overwhelmed by anxiety. The lack of a social support system, especially public healthcare, and the complexity of everything from taxes to securing a child’s education was shocking compared to the ease and security provided to citizens in Finland. By comparing and contrasting the social services provided in the US and the Nordic countries, 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.” (source)
Even though I felt the last few chapters of this book got a bit repetitive, I enjoyed it all the way through. I mostly found it uplifting to read about places that sound as utopian as the Nordic countries and uplifting is important to me as I slog through writing my thesis! It was also depressing at times, comparing our current system to that in Finland, but I think the author is doing a great thing just by making people aware that a system like that in Finland can work. The benefits of their system in terms of education, elder care, and work-life balance sound pretty incredible. It’s fair to say I’m a convert!
In particular, I admired the author’s ability to show how much better things could be in the US without being patronizing. There are clearly things she loves about the US as well as Finland. She recognizes the things that are done well here and ends the book with the description of the ceremony in which she became a US citizen. I think there are probably people who have such diametrically opposed political views to the author’s that they couldn’t enjoy reading or learn from this book. However, I think that’s no fault of the author’s. While she does clearly have strong beliefs, she’s never offensive or belligerent and I loved learning from her. Regardless of the implications of the book for US politics, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who loves learning about other countries. The compare and contrast with the US made this a great primer for an American interested in other cultures.