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Wasteland with Words

A Social History of Iceland

Iceland is an enigmatic island country marked by contradiction: it’s a part of Europe, yet separated from it by the Atlantic Ocean; it’s seemingly inhospitable, yet home to more than 300,000. Wasteland with Words explores these paradoxes to uncover the mystery of Iceland.

In Wasteland with Words Sigurdur Gylfi Magnússon presents a wide-ranging and detailed analysis of the island’s history that examines the evolution and transformation of Icelandic culture while investigating the literary and historical factors that created the rich cultural heritage enjoyed by Icelanders today. Magnússon explains how a nineteenth-century economy based on the industries of fishing and agriculture—one of the poorest in Europe—grew to become a disproportionately large economic power in the late twentieth century, while retaining its strong sense of cultural identity. Bringing the story up to the present, he assesses the recent economic and political collapse of the country and how Iceland has coped. Throughout Magnússon seeks to chart the vast changes in this country’s history through the impact and effect on the Icelandic people themselves.

Up-to-date and fascinating, Wasteland with Words is a comprehensive study of the island’s cultural and historical development, from tiny fishing settlements to a global economic power.

288 pages | 40 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2010

History: European History

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“Well researched and full of rich resources, the book provides unique insight into a truly unparalleled country and culture, not found in many works available to English readers. Overall, an important work for those interested in Icelandic cultural history and a stepping-stone for future research. . . . Highly recommended.”


Table of Contents

Introduction: Blind Spots in History

1    Modern Times: Society, Work and Demography
2    People and Politics
3    The Feeling of Swallowing a Hunchback: Material Culture
4    Icelandic Connections: The Lure of the New World
5    Tactics for Emotional Survival: Education, Work and Entertainment
6    Death and Daily Life
7    Childhood, Youth and the Formation of the Individual
8    A True Passion: Writing as Personal Expression
9    The Shaping of Modern Man
10  The Middle Ages and Beyond: A Cultural Foundation
11  The Barefoot Historians and the ’People’s Press’
12  Urban Living: Industry, Labour and Living Conditions
13  The Myth of the Model Woman: Gender Roles in Urban and Rural Iceland
14  Death in the City
15  Children in Urban Areas
16  Monsters from the Deep and the Icelandic Way of Thinking
17  Selective Modernization and Capitalist Euphoria
18  Black-out

Select Bibliography
Photographic Acknowledgements

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