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The Best Books about Denmark

recommended by Eva Hoier Greene

The problem is that the best, most interesting books about Denmark are written in Danish, and not translated for obvious reasons. However:

  • 1

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    Lucky Per: Translated from the Danish with an Afterword by Naomi Lebowitz
    by Henrik Pontoppidan

    Pontoppidan won the Nobel prize exactly 101 years ago, but the wit of the book still shines, the themes are universal and while younger readers might be thrown off by all the unfamiliar references to mores and everyday practicalities, it remains such an engaging and funny read. And it *nails* Denmark. I think that might be reason why it's not the most beloved book in our national canon (respected but largely avoided) - Pontoppidan pulls no punches. It reminds me of "Independent People" by Laxness.

  • 2

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    The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life
    by Anu Partanen

    Of course there's the never-ending avalanche of "hygge" books and life-style books, I haven't really had much occasion to read them myself, because I already know that I don't need to light a 50 quid scented candle and put on scratchy but grammable wool socks to get my hygge on. But probably the best of the pro-Scandi books is "The Nordic Theory of Everything" by Anu Partanen (sadly, a Finn).

  • 3

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    Countrymen: How Denmark's Jews Escaped the Nazis
    by Bo Lidegaard

    I read this a couple of years ago. Bo Lidegaard is a historian and former editor at one of the bigger papers in Denmark. It seeks to explain why the Danish Jews escaped so relatively unscathed during WW2, the conditions deliberately put in place by the social-democratic government in the 30s, lots of interesting theories on how to fascist-proof a country (basically do the opposite of what Trump is doing now, as it turns out), many surprising details from occupation that were new to me. I think I want to re-read it, there are some lessons there that seem very urgent right now, it's so rare that a country, a government and a culture get it right. Of course, there are also many books written on the less noble aspects of Denmark's role in the WW2, but I haven't read anything good in English on that, that I can remember. That part of Danish history is the one I'm most often asked about, so perhaps it will be of interest to Five Books readers too.

  • 4

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    The Nordic Family Kitchen
    by Claus Meyer

    There's no shortage of glossy coffee-table books on Fancy Nordic Cooking now, and they all look amazing. Claus Meyer, the chef and entrepreneur who started NOMA and who spearheaded the ascent of Nordic cuisine globally put out a very lovely cookbook that I'd dearly love to have myself (but it's annoying to not have ready access to all the lovely, seasonal, local ingredients), and is the one I'd gift any actual cook.

  • 5

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    Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales
    by Hans Christian Andersen

    Most English versions of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales are substantially changed, with happier endings plastered over the original bleak Danish ones (spoiler alert: The Little Mermaid does not get her prince, and dies of sorrow, prompting her 13 sisters to commit a sort of mass suicide and become foam on the waves, to join her). He's written a number of strange little heartbreaking stories, like "The Story of A Mother" or weird, brutal and rambling tales like "The Snow Queen" (which incidentally Frozen was based on, apparently), that are quite dark. Anyways, it's always funny to me that in the US and the UK, these fairy tales are associated wiht childhood innocence and back home we really try to keep them away from smaller children.

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