My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sweden, for a relatively small country, occupies a rather large role in global discussions. It is held up as either an example of statist groupthink or an ecological utopia. Swedes themselves would never call it a utopia but they would also unquestionably say the world would be a better place if everywhere else was more like Sweden (just with better weather).
In this highly readable book, journalist Dominic Hinde takes you on a journey around modern Sweden and tells you how it came to be the way that it is. Hinde uses the backdrop of Scotland’s bid for independence to show why the Nordic model is both a good example but not one that is easily imported. Having lived in Sweden for the past eight years I found that I recognised not just the places but the descriptions and the feelings that Hinde evokes and that sense of match gave the book credibility. I also learnt a lot of things that I’d not previously picked up – about why there’s no minimum wage in Sweden but low-skilled jobs are still well paid, about why feminists see Sweden as a job only half-done, that Swedish newspapers get public funding, about how much money one iron mine makes, about a town in Shanghai designed to look like a Swedish town and why Swedish houses are warmer than British ones.
There are enough good insights in a short book that I’d say it is one of the most useful books to read if you were thinking of moving to live in Sweden but as with all books it has its biases. It’s not surprising that Hinde has no time for the right and the Sweden Democrats (no-one officially does) but he is also clearly no fan of the centre-right either. For example in a chapter called The Moderate Utopia, the political reforms introduced by the centre-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and his finance minister Anders Borg are presented through the analysis of a single voice from the left. No alternative view or explanation is offered.
Hinde does a good job of explaining the unique solutions that Sweden found to solving problems and also explaining why they might not work for everyone or for that much longer into the future. Sweden is a relatively small but rich consumer-based country and is subject to the winds of globalization, it is not, entirely, the master of its own destiny.
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