The Little Book of the Icelanders

Fifty miniature essays on the quirks and foibles of the Icelandic people

In 1994, after more than 20 years away, Alda Sigmundsdóttir returned to her native Iceland as a foreigner. With a native person’s insight yet an outsider’s perspective, Alda quickly set about dissecting the national psyche of the Icelanders.

Copy of The Little Book of the Icelanders on a table with flowers
Happy people near an erupting volcano from The Little Book of the Icelanders

“Grasping the national psyche of the Icelandic people is like trying to catch a slippery fish with your bare hands. But I give it my best shot in The Little Book of the Icelanders,” says Alda.

Beautifully illustrated by Megan Herbert, The Little Book of the Icelanders is the perfect book for all lovers of Iceland. Available in paperback, ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats. The paperbacks, ebooks, and audiobooks are available from your nearest Amazon store. The hardcovers ship from Iceland.

Sample chapter

Of optimism

Even though they live on the edge of the inhabitable world with engulfing darkness for several months of the year, the Icelanders continue to score among the most optimistic people in the world.

Is it the fish? The fresh air? The cod liver oil? Natural selection? The copious amounts of anti-depressants they consume?

Nobody really knows.

However, one thing is sure: this character trait serves Icelanders well and has helped the nation cope with innumerable shocks, from volcanic eruptions to famines, to a massive economic crisis. Whatever happens, you can be sure that the Icelanders will seek the silver lining and soldier on, firmly believing that things will soon get better.

Indeed it is fascinating to observe how the Icelanders deal with trauma at a national level. Their initial reaction always seems to be to bond together. People who on regular days will bicker and quarrel amongst themselves, suddenly become enormously supportive of each other. I’ve seen this happen in the aftermath of disasters such as snow avalanches and volcanic eruptions, or tragedies that capture the nation’s attention.

Take, for example, the economic meltdown of 2008, which for the Icelanders was one of the most catastrophic events in recent history. Many people feared an onslaught of suicides in the wake of all the bankruptcies that ensued. Yet it turned out that the number of suicides actually declined. According to the Directorate of Health, it was because the nation had bonded together, and people were closer and more supportive of each other than they had been in a very long time.

In other words, the optimism is probably a long-term survival strategy. After all, through the centuries of hardship and geographical isolation that the Icelandic nation has endured, defeat was not an option – it was stand together, fight together, or die. And fighting naturally incorporates optimism – after all, you have to believe there is something worth fighting for.

Mind you, this is just my own homegrown theory. A devil’s advocate would probably ask why the other Nordic nations are not the same – why there isn’t the same prevalence of optimism there. Or bring up the bloody family feuds in the Iceland of yore, where folks cut each other down willy-nilly for the stupidest reasons. To which I don’t even pretend to have an answer.

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Appalling driving habits of the Icelanders

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Naming conventions and customs

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The Icelanders’ profound fear of commitment

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The Icelanders’ irreverence

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Why Icelandic women are really men

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How the Icelanders manage to make social interactions really complicated

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The importance of the family in Icelandic society

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Where to go to meet the real Icelanders

… and possibly score some free financial advice

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Rituals associated with the most important life events

Weddings, confirmations, graduations, and deaths

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And so much more inside!

Copy of The Little Book of the Icelanders lying on a cloth

Learn more about the national psyche of the Icelanders. Get your copy of The Little Book of the Icelanders now!

Reviews

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

I absolutely adored this book. […] I found Icelanders and their culture to be incredibly interesting and unique, yet fascinatingly paradoxical at times. This book was an absolute delight to read, insightful in many ways, and helped this one tourist going around in a circle understand and see beyond the hot dogs, wool sweaters, and beautiful vistas.

K. TRUONG VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

Delightfully entertaining, telling you everything you want to know about how Icelanders live and think. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gained a great deal of information, while connecting you with the differences in the beliefs and traditions of the true Icelanders. A great book of insight.

M2R VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

This witty and informative collection of essays explains much about the Icelandic people and their quirky approach to life. It’s written with obvious love but also with the clear-eyed assessment of someone who has taken a step back and really looked into the heart and actions of her countrymen. Parts had me laughing out loud, parts had me nodding in recognition, and some parts showed the delightfully baffling foibles of a people who battle both ancient and modern challenges every day. I recommend it highly.

DAVID HILL VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

This book is flott! Flott is an Icelandic word defined by the author as a combination of cool and awesome. I read this while visiting Iceland and found it a fascinating and entertaining read to help me understand both the country and its people. It reads like you asked the author to tell you about Iceland and this was her answer.

CAREZB VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

[…] All the essays offer fascinating information, seasoned with a healthy dose of dry wit as the author pokes fun at her fellow Nicelanders. If you want to learn about Iceland and its inhabitants in a fun, quirky way, and get a feel for Icelandic culture and humor, this is the book for you! A must-read before your trip 🙂

CALONE VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

If you are fascinated with Iceland and its people, this is a great read. Alda wrote 50 essays that are easy to read and make you want more and more, and before you know it you have finished the book. It is very well written in a nice easy flow. It is fascinating to learn about the “strange” behaviors and quirkiness the Icelanders have.

PETER S. VIA AMAZON

THE LITTLE BOOK OF THE ICELANDERS

Outstanding book that can easily be read in a couple of hours. It’s funny and very informative. […] This book explains a lot of modern culture about this crazy and totally cool country near the Arctic Circle. Icelandic people are often a paradox of post-modern liberalism and orthodox parochial beliefs. This book explains those contrasts with great accuracy.

Finally, thanks to this book, I’m no longer puzzled by some of the strange behavior I’ve seen throughout Iceland. Too bad we can’t import parts of their culture, much of the world can learn a lot from Icelanders.

DAVID HACKETT SOUTER VIA AMAZON

About the author

Alda Sigmundsdóttir the Author of the Little Books about Iceland

Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a writer, and occasional journalist. She runs her own independent press, Little Books Publishing, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.

Alda is the author of ten books, each of which explores an aspect of Icelandic culture or society. Her two latest books, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas and The Little Book of Days in Iceland, are about the Icelanders’ enthusiasm for the Yuletide season, and Iceland’s special seasonal events and holidays, respectively. Alda is active on social media, and may be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Our other Little Books

Did you think The Little Book of the Icelanders was our only title? Think again! We publish numerous books about Iceland, the Icelanders, and Icelandic culture and affairs. Click the button to see our selection of wonderful Little Books.

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