The Nordic Theory of Everything

In Search of a Better Life

by Anu Partanen

"A passionate and intelligent argument."

—Publisher's Weekly

"Highly readable and entertaining."

—Library Journal

"A wonderful, hopeful book."

—Robert Reich

"A game-changer."

—The Seattle Times

"Partanen rips up the stereotypes. ... A dangerous book."

—Judith Shulevitz

"A careful, judicious case."

—The New York Times Book Review

"Required reading."

—Foreign Affairs

About the Book

A journalist from Finland, now a naturalized U.S. 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 the United States from Finland in 2008, 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 U.S. and Finland, Partanen began to look closely at both.

In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Partanen compares 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.

The Nordic Theory of Everything is published by HarperCollins.

Learn more

Finland is a Capitalist Paradise

New York TimesSunday Review

Anu and her American husband debunked the myth that Nordic countries are socialist, helping to reframe the 2020 conversation about the future of the United States.

What Americans Don't Get About Nordic Societies

The Atlantic

Anu's article on what American politicians get wrong about Nordic countries went viral during the 2016 presidential campaign and has attracted millions of views.

Why People in Finland Are So Much Happier than Americans

Huffington Post

To be the happiest country, having the top economic growth isn’t necessarily the answer. Are you listening, U.S.?

A Best Book of the Year

—Seattle Times

A Best Book of the Summer

—O, The Oprah Magazine

A Best Nonfiction Book of the Summer


A Must-Read of the Summer

—New York Post

A Book You Desperately Need to Add to Your To-Read Pile


“This is a wonderful, hopeful book about what American society could be—not by adopting Nordic ‘socialism,’ but by embracing the values that have allowed Nordic citizens to enjoy more freedom and equality than in present-day America. The American Dream was once an inspiration to the world. Anu Partanen shows us how to rediscover it.”

—Robert B. Reich
Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor

“If Americans really understood how bad we have it—how unjust and wrong-headed our policies are when it comes to child care, education, and medicine—we’d take to the streets. Anu Partanen rips up all the stale stereotypes about Nordic welfare states and shows us how many kinds of human flourishing we’re missing out on. This is a dangerous book. Don’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”

—Judith Shulevitz
Author of The Sabbath World

“In her careful, evenhanded series of thoughtful essays, Partanen, who just became an American citizen, parses the recipe for Nordic success that even the self-congratulatory ‘exceptional’ American may want to ponder and adapt. … An earnest, well-written work worth heeding, especially in our current toxic political climate.”


“Partanen is a careful, judicious writer and she makes a careful, judicious case. … It’s useful to know what the outsider knows: There are other ways of organizing humanity.”

—New York Times Book Review

“A game-changer in national conversations about the roles that governments should play in their citizens’ lives. At the heart of Partanen’s discussion is a concern with what we mean by personal freedom and opportunity.”

—Seattle Times

“Partanen’s sensible book should be required reading for those who wonder why so many Americans feel resentful and alienated.”

—Foreign Affairs

“This highly readable and entertaining work is timely, as the conversation about inequality and the role of social services in this country has never been more relevant.”

—Library Journal

“Partanen’s pride in her homeland and genuine concern for the struggles of middle-class Americans infuse her book with candor and charm, and her perceptions about American struggles feel spot-on.”


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