General Non-Fiction · History

Review: How Iceland Changed the World

Title: How Iceland Changed the World
Author:Egill Bjarnason
Page Count: 288
Publication: May 2021

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly)

My partner and I drive about 10 hours one way to go to our cabin in Northern Michigan. On the trip, instead of Spotify playlist and podcasts, we started listening to audiobooks to while away the time. This last trip, we choose How Iceland Changed the World.

Iceland, the tiny island country with a population (371K) less than my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI (500K for the urban area, 1.1M for the metro). I have a thing for Vikings and you really can’t get more Vikingesque than Iceland.

Iceland also has it’s own stars: they are one of the most literate population on earth and the number of authors as well as musicians such as Björk, John Grant (transplant from the US), as well as some of the best entries for Eurovision including a punk-rock children’s band is nearly 2:1. Plus, one of my favorite TV series, Trapped, is based in Iceland.

But Iceland is more than just music and literature and cool TV shows. It has given us much in the world such as:

  • Longest running (over 900 years) of legislative assembly
  • Sagas
  • First woman president in the world who was democratically elected
  • One of the first women prime ministers
  • One of the first countries to almost close the gap of equal pay for men and women
  • Runs almost completely on renewable energy
  • It was used to simulate the moon landing in the ’60s
  • It was instrumental in the foundation of Israel
  • Tolkien’s muse was a nanny from Iceland
  • It has no standing army
  • Instrumental in WW2 with it’s position in the north Atlantic with occupation of Brits and the Yanks.

And a lot more.

How Iceland Changed the World is a trip through a 1,200 year odyssey that breathes fire into this icey land. We learned so much there was a lot of “ahas!” and “holy shit, really?” as the narrator went on. Who knew that Iceland’s terrain was perfect to simulate the moon landing and when it tried to ban alcohol, its’ hand was forced when Spain only promised to buy cod from Iceland if Iceland took on Spanish red wine. ALSO! Beer, but not wine or hard alcohol, was illegal in the country until the early ’00s.

Crazy, right?

I would highly recommend this as an audiobook over print since the narrator gives it a nice Icelandic flair with names and the deprecation of the author about the history of this tiny giant of country.