Scandinavians In search of the soul of the North

Robert Ferguson, 1948-

Book - 2017

A journey of discovery though two millennia of Scandinavia's history, culture and society, "told with deep knowledge and an intoxicating passion" (BBC). -- Scandinavians is also a personal investigation, with award-winning author Robert Ferguson as the ideal companion as he explores wide-ranging topics such as the power and mystique of Scandinavian women, from the Valkyries to the Vikings; from Nora and Hedda to Garbo and Bergman. This digressive technique is familiar from the wri...tings of W.G. Sebald, and in Ferguson's hands it is deployed with particular felicity, accessibility, and deftness, richly illuminating our understanding of modern Scandinavia, its society, politics, culture, and temperament.

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Subjects
Published
New York, NY : Overlook Press 2017.
Language
English
Physical Description
xxiii, 455 pages : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 431-443) and index.
ISBN
9781468314823
1468314823
Main Author
Robert Ferguson, 1948- (author)
  • Prelude. A season in Hell: Copenhagen 1969
  • Stones
  • The conversion of the Icelanders
  • Amleth, Luther and the last priest: the Reformation in Scandinavia
  • The King of the past: Frederik VII of Denmark
  • The Vasa ship: Sweden's age of greatness
  • Abductions: the war between the Danes and Algerians
  • The short sweet rule of Johann Friedrich Struensee
  • Taking God at His word: Søren Kierkegaard and Olav Fiskvik
  • The loneliness of the long-distance explorer
  • Interlude: Ibsen's Ghosts
  • The emigrants
  • World War II: the Scandinavian experience
  • The power of Scandinavian women
  • Dagny Juel and the invention of melancholy
  • Malexander
  • Oslo 2016.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Ferguson's stroll through more than one thousand years of Scandinavian history offers an enchanting glimpse into the region's political, economic, social, and cultural past. Personal history (British-born, Ferguson emigrated to Norway in 1983) and inviting prose (he's published books on the Vikings and Ibsen and is a radio dramatist) anchor the book's ambitious scope. For example, the author's habit of spending Saturday afternoons with his philosopher friend opens the chapter on Kierkegaard, and much of the section on Ibsen is written in the form of a play. Early in the book, Ferguson introduces the reader to the notion of Viking-era "blind" stones, that is, stones originally covered in writing and images that time has erased. These artifacts, about which little is known, set the tone for Ferguson's book by introducing the sense of mystery that makes history so exciting. If the notion of a singular and coherent Scandinavian soul seems dubious, Ferguson convincingly argues for a regional identity that is based less on shared climate than on centuries of land exchange, a common religion, and frequent travel akin to the author's own. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In a free-wheeling love letter to the essence of Scandinavia, Ferguson (Life Lessons from Kierkegaard) takes readers on a leisurely jaunt through the collective, interconnected histories of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. This is not a dry, exclusively historical narrative; rather, it is part oral history and part a narrative of personal experience. The U.K.-born Ferguson interweaves tales from more than 30 years of living in Norway and professions of his passion for Scandinavia with accounts of prominent historical episodes and interviews he has conducted. This "isn't, strictly speaking, a history so much as a journey, a discursive and digressive stroll through the last thousand years of Scandinavian culture in search of the soul of the north," he explains. Whether he's waxing poetic about the works and impact of playwright Henrik Ibsen, examining how differently each Scandinavian country acted and reacted during WWII, or contemplating the mystique and strength of Scandinavia's women, Ferguson combines the factual and the intimate. This characteristic of the book keeps things from becoming too dry, though it also results in a work that is sprawling and overly broad. It's as if in searching for the soul of the North, Ferguson's writing lost its way. Passionate yet prone to distraction, Ferguson delivers an idiosyncratic look at Scandinavia. Agent: David Miller, Rogers, Coleridge, and White. (June) Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Chronicles the history of Scandinavia, from the Vendel era of prehistoric Sweden, to the Vikings and the Christian conversion and unified state of the Middle Ages, through the world wars of the past century, discussing the region’s society, politics and culture.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Scandinavia is the epitome of cool: we fill our homes with Nordic furniture; we envy their humane social welfare system and their healthy outdoor lifestyle; we glut ourselves on their crime fiction; even their strangely attractive melancholia seems to express a stoic, commonsensical acceptance of life’s vicissitudes. But how valid is this outsider’s view of Scandinavia, and how accurate our picture of life in Scandinavia today? Scandinavians follows a chronological progression across the Northern centuries: the Vendel era of Swedish prehistory; the age of the Vikings; the Christian conversions of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland; the unified Scandinavian state of the late Middle Ages; the sea-change of the Reformation; the kingdom of Denmark-Norway; King Gustav Adolphus and the age of Sweden’s greatness; the cultural golden age of Ibsen, Strindberg and Munch; the impact of the Second World War; Scandinavia’s postwar social democratic nirvana; and the terror attacks of Anders Behring Breivik. Scandinavians is also a personal investigation, with award-winning author Robert Ferguson as the ideal companion as he explores wide-ranging topics such as the power and mystique of Scandinavian women, from the Valkyries to the Vikings; from Nora and Hedda to Garbo and Bergman. This digressive technique is familiar from the writings of W. G. Sebald, and in Ferguson’s hands it is deployed with particular felicity, accessibility, and deftness, richly illuminating our understanding of modern Scandinavia, its society, politics, culture, and temperament.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A journey of discovery though two millennia of Scandinavia’s history, culture and society, "told with deep knowledge and an intoxicating passion" (BBC).