The author of this book, Ulf Nilson, states that he is "not out to convince anybody about anything" (p. 13). My review will therefore be based on the assumption that the author intended for the book to be a well-researched, informative, and balanced historical account of Sweden's political system, rather than a loosely defined conglomerate of personal opinions and ideas.
During my reading of this book I found several weaknesses in the author's renditions. For example, the author uses terms that are no doubt intended to be derogatory, while failing to support them with factual sources. He describes former kings and political leaders as "fat" (p. 18), "homosexual" (p. 19), or engaged in "bigamy" (p. 44). Such statements hardly seem relevant to the leadership and political skills of the person in question and ought not be mentioned; that is, unless the author intentionally attempts to mix apples with oranges and indeed steer the less educated reader toward a prejudice view of Sweden's historical leadership.
Some of the examples that the author provides makes it appear as though his thinking has stagnated in the `50s. An example is his statement that all major decisions are made "within a group of perhaps 50-100 people, almost all of them men" (p. 12). It is a well-known fact that women have always held inferior social and political positions in all countries of the world, and continue to do so. But credit should be given where it is due. Sweden is continuously striving toward gender equality, much as a direct result of the efforts of the former visionary Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Today, Sweden, along with the other Nordic countries, enjoys greater gender equality than any other country in the world. For example, according to 2006 statistics, women hold 47% of the seats in the Swedish parliament (source: Sveriges Riksdag Faktablad). Much has happened since the 1950s, `60s, and `70s. By comparison, as of today, only 16% of the U.S. Senate is female. Likewise, only 16.3% of the House of Representatives is female (source: Eagleton Institute of Politics).
A major weakness is the author's failure to place events in historical context. For example, throughout the country's history, the citizens of Sweden have experienced a great deal of poverty and oppression by their leaders. Likewise, slavery in America was not unique to our country when it was first implemented. What should be emphasized, however, is not that such distasteful practices took place, but that it took the United States until 1964 to sign into effect the Civil Rights Act outlawing segregation. Perhaps even more remarkable is that in 2008, people still question whether or not America is "ready" for an African-American president! When placed in historical context, what happened in most countries of the world hundreds of years ago is not what makes a country unique; it is not the past enslavement of the black population that makes America unique. Rather, it is our inability TODAY to view the black man and woman as our equal that makes us unique in a negative sense. This is truly shameful.
The author correctly states that Sweden might be the "least religious country in the Europe of today." Many Swedes do indeed view religion as a "ridiculous kind of superstition" (p. 40). Whether this is good or bad depends on whether one would rather view the world from a standpoint of education and logic, or from a standpoint of subjective morality and "faith." Swedes, as do most educated Europeans, mock the idea of teaching creationism in the science classroom. I agree with the Swedes. Americans, despite our good intentions in our strife for that elusive concept we call "freedom," have an undue phobia of atheists, communists, and homosexuals. Let me mention that Sweden never adhered to a communist philosophy. For example (and this is only one example of many), during the Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40, Sweden responded with anti-Soviet propaganda and decided to assist Finland against the Soviet invasion of the Karelian Isthmus by sending the country an 8,000-man strong volunteer force in addition to material help. Moreover, anti-Soviet/anti-communist Swedes set on fire the offices of Norrskensflamman, the newspaper of the Swedish Communist Party. The military leadership in Luleå in northern Sweden, in conjunction with the Committee for Finland and the Socialist Party, formed a coalition for the purpose of defeating and closing down the Communist Party newspaper (source: Vasa Gymnasiet: Om Motstånd och Kollaboration - Sverige Under 30- och 40-Talen). Although individual politicians such as Olof Palme and the Swedish people in general have spoken out against certain American foreign policies, in modern times perhaps most notably the Vietnam War which was also heavily protested within the United States by our own citizens, Sweden has always stood on the side of America and the rest of the Western industrialized world. It is short-sighted to presume that Sweden was friendlier toward the former Soviet Union and communism than it was toward the capitalistic United States.
With respect to the view that Sweden is essentially a one-party state, which the author hints at several times throughout the book, seven political parties whose views vary relatively little are currently represented in the Swedish parliament (source: Sveriges Riksdag). The reason why the Social Democratic Party (or left-wing coalition in recent years) has held power almost consistently in the last century (although the right-wing coalition is currently in charge), is because the Swedish people at large are social democratic at heart and have with overwhelming majority chosen representation by the Social Democratic Party in free elections. Or, as is written in Swedish law: "All public power in Sweden rests with the people" (source: Handbok för Förvaltningsmyndigheter). I suspect that even Ulf Nilson would agree that, regardless of one's personal political views, going against the wishes of the majority would be utterly undemocratic.
Folkhemmet, loosely described on p. 53, is admittedly an idealistic concept and, as history will attest, any idealistic view is exceedingly difficult to implement with full success. Whether Sweden reaches it or not is less important, however, than is the recognition that every one of us, regardless of which country we call home, will face the same basic needs throughout our life's journey. As Olof Palme so eloquently stated in a speech at Harvard in 1984: "During the course of life, we all meet the same challenges: to grow up and be educated; to find playmates and friends; to prepare ourselves for our different roles in adult life and make our own living; to find somewhere to live and make it into a home; to form a family and bring up children; to keep healthy throughout life and cope with illness and other misfortunes that may beset us; to secure a decent living and preserve our dignity for the inevitable frailty of old age; to live as free citizens, equal with other members of society; and to take a share in being responsible for the common good" (source: ABC Klubben: Idepolitikern Palme). The idea of Folkhemmet is primarily about the open acknowledgement that, although all people of the world will face similar paths from cradle to grave, they will undoubtedly face different degrees of hardship and strife. It is therefore the responsibility of the government in cooperation with the people to provide every citizen with the assurance that he or she can live in security in his or her own country, and have his or her basic needs satisfied: adequate food, shelter, education, healthcare, and happiness.
Much more ought to be said. However, for fear of being overly lengthy, let me end by stating that the book's main weakness is the author's strong personal bias and lack of balance. I disagree here with the other reviewers; the author is either naïve or is trying to appeal to an audience who is. Chapters 9 and 10 were by far the best balanced chapters. The author would also have benefited from listing the sources whenever making statements that are intended as factual. It would have given him more credibility. For example, how does the author know that "[n]either the defense forces, nor the police, have any good idea of how to defend [Sweden's] . . . nuclear power plants against terrorist attacks"? (p. 178) Although everyone is entitled to an opinion--admittedly, the Social Democrats have come close to overstepping their boundaries a number of times; for example, regarding the Wage Earner Funds (p. 130), but the people voiced their displeasure at the idea--in order for a literary work to be considered educational and informative, concepts such as neutrality, Olof Palme's idea of social security, the subordination of the church to the state, etc., must undergo critical analysis, which means that they must be examined from multiple viewpoints; the good must be examined along with the bad. This is where the author fails. (For the record, it is partly because of the subordination of the church to the state that women gained greater equality and could become priests and bishops; an event which Ulf Nilson views as unjust (p. 104). In a modern democratic country, however, it should go without saying that all citizens--ALL OF THEM including the female half--should have equal rights. If the U.S. had true separation of church and state, rather than just in theory, restricting abortion, for example, would not be a political issue; it would apply only to the people who freely choose to go to church.) The book's main strength is its controversial nature, which makes it at least a moderately intriguing read for those with interests in political/social history and debate, and which is why it gets two stars rather than one.
Oh, one more thing: The author has consistently stated throughout the book that the uniformity of the political system and the welfare state make Sweden a stagnant society where it is nearly impossible to pull ahead, even if one works hard. I found it interesting that the statistics listed on p. 170 conclude that the United States has 313 billionaires in U.S. dollars, while Sweden has 9 billionaires in U.S. dollars. Hmmm . . . if my math isn't completely off, that gives Sweden exactly the same percentage billionaires as the United States. Sweden has after all only 9 million people, while the U.S. has 300 million.