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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Genuine Illumination of Norden's Proud Past, September 2, 2007
This review is from: Scandinavia Since 1500 (Hardcover)
Scandinavia, an often overlooked and opaque faction of affluent modern countries that never seem to capture the spotlight like its modish Western European neighbors. There is a lot more to this unheeded part of Europe then the common images held today: Scandinavia has a proud and rich history. In bygone times, Denmark and Sweden were two of the mightiest naval powers in Europe that ferociously contended for supremacy of Northern Europe in the Early Modern Era as well as significantly contributed to the Continent`s great wars of the age. Although quite contrary to the existing welfare states plagued by immigrants today, an abundance of great thinkers, reformers, scholars, inventors, writers, painters, and scientists from the region once contributed to the greater development of European and Western society as a whole.

Bryon Nordstrom, a professor of Scandinavian History at Gustavus Adolphus College, examines all five of these fascinating Scandinavian countries with emphasis on how the interactions between each other and the rest of the European powers have transformed the countries of today. From the beginnings of the first Paleolithic nomads to the modern contemporary states, the bulk of the significant historical events are covered with special attention to an in-depth analysis of the complex times from the 16th Century to present.

Nordstrom accomplishes, quite commendably, the strenuous task of providing readers with the historical highlights over the past five centuries, as well as elaborating and clarifying any ambiguities or misconceptions one might have. Although his delineation of the major events comprising Scandinavian history is much in the diction of a 300 page lecture, this does not hinder the effectual illustration of this intricate subject. As long as you, have any spark of interest or appetite for knowledge of the region, a modest comprehension of the book will likely contribute to a greater and more complete understanding of how these countries were shaped and exist today.

Being a history professor, Nordstrom's writing is rather straightforward. He delivers his message clear and straight to the point with no frills and with little personal bias in his writing which is rare for his profession these days. It becomes evident he has strong appreciation for his subject and an thorough, almost encyclopedic knowledge of the region.

The events that have transpired in the timeframe which the book is centered around (1500 to present) are presented in an adequate introduction which outlines the fundamentals of the region but also further elaborates on scholarly details. If you aren't already familiar with the basics of the Kalmar Union, the Hanseatic League, and the Nordic countries' involvement in the Thirty Years' War, Nordstrom provides a thorough overview. He also breaks down the perplexing Dano-Swedish wars during the 17th and 18th centuries which number around eight and were sparked by a multitude of reasons. Professor Nordstrom organizes the past five hundred years into three sections; Early Modern (1500-1800), Nineteenth Century, and the Twentieth Century. Special emphasis is placed on each country's political, economic, and social progressions. While all five modern day Norden countries are covered, a majority of the book deals with countries with a paramount role in the region's progression, which is mostly Sweden and Denmark.

Although "Scandinavia Since 1500" is not without it's low points: the economic evolutions of Norden during 19th and 20th centuries do certainly drag down the pace a bit, and a recurrent stress on peripheral topics such as "women's rights" and environmentalism are quite common. However, his purpose of creating a straightforward history of Scandinavia for the past 500 years is accomplished exceptionally well and worthy of five stars for a meritable effort of meticulous research and a diverse encompassment of little known details. With no other book of it's kind available today geared especially towards Americans, "Scandinavia Since 1500" makes a compelling read for any student of history, and especially Scandinavian-Americans, who hope to gain a familiarization with a part of the world that holds a rich and considerable history well worth a thorough examination.
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