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Wasteland with Words: A Social History of Iceland

3.58  ·  Rating Details  ·  24 Ratings  ·  7 Reviews
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 i
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 15th 2010 by Reaktion Books (first published May 15th 2010)
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Dec 28, 2013 Carolyn rated it really liked it
Sigurdur's use of primary sources, from the letters, journals and other writings of ordinary people, as well as commentary from newspaper articles, gives insight into the realities of life in Iceland over the last two or three hundred years.
For anyone at all familiar with Iceland, the remarkable transition from desperate agrarian poverty to prosperous urbanised modernity is already known. However, it is the personal perspectives and even commonly held attitudes that add depth and colour to this
Jul 05, 2013 Michael rated it liked it
"Wasteland with Words" helped me make sense of the Icelandic people's progression from early settlement to the Viking and saga eras, through the extended Middle Ages' slow modernization to the rapid development following World War II. I feel like I came to know a few of the Icelanders whose autobiographical writings are featured, the most memorable of them having written in the nineteenth century. I appreciated the personalized approach, and some chapters, especially those dealing with children ...more
Margo Brooks
Sep 12, 2014 Margo Brooks rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a very interesting overview of the social history of Iceland. Pulling from letter and autobiographies, Sigurdur provides an interesting characterization of a people simultaneously locked in medieval times up to and even into the 20th century, while simultaneously thirsting for knowledge and self understanding. This dichotomy of extremely poor surroundings and rich intellectual lives makes the Icelandic people unique. Some of the passages in this book are so horrifying that you could lite ...more
Jun 23, 2013 Helen rated it it was amazing
Splendid. A "micro-historical" study - the historical geography, and social and literary history of Iceland. Particularly interesting on the "farmer-poet" tradition, and the manuscripts which have survived - the diaries and autobiographical writings of ordinary Icelandic people (mainly 19th/20th century). There is much in this that reminds me of Wales - beirdd gwlad, &c.. The photographs are fascinating (although many are undated). He concludes with a look at recent events, and an attempt at ...more
Nell Chitty
Feb 17, 2014 Nell Chitty rated it liked it
This is a very approachable book on the social history of Iceland equipped with many anecdotes and photographs. The book deals mostly with the 1700's onwards and left me wondering "Why?" at many times as there were blanks in some places as to theories on why cultural shifts occurred or why certain practices were in place. However, all in all it is a very interesting book that was a pleasure to read.
Aug 26, 2010 Nora rated it it was ok
Shelves: owned
This book taught me about the history of Iceland, a country that I knew nothing about until I went there on holiday. Not being a historian myself, I found this "social history" approach to be unstructured and sometimes illogical. The author jumps between topics instead of presenting a coherent chronology. He also has no understanding of economics that I can find. I learned about the social character of Icelanders, but feel I still need a "proper" history book to really understand the history its ...more
Jan 14, 2013 Mary rated it really liked it
Fascinating social history, concentrating on the everyday life of Icelanders through the very hard life of past centuries. Chooses extracts from diaries and letters, supplemented by photos and a photo essay. Breaks from the earlier style in the two final chapters and these are not quite so successful. Great background for reading Halldor Laxness's novels.
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