“Iceland, as described by Tomasson, has a fascinating, often contradictory culture,” writes Seymour Martin Lipset in his forward to this book, the first sociological account in English of modern Icelandic society and the forces that have shaped it. Richard F. Tomasson argues that Iceland can best be understood as an example of “a new society” -- the first such pioneer community to be founded in historical times. To the author the most significant influences upon Icelandic culture and social structure are the continuities that have persisted in this island society for eleven centuries, since its origins as an isolated Viking colony. Tomasson traces the ways in which Icelandic culture developed out of the medieval pre-Christian society -- in its language, relations between the sexes, egalitarianism, and the high frequency of illegitimate births. He also points out areas of contradiction and discontinuity, noting that Iceland has been transformed in the twentieth century by modernization of the society and international influences upon the culture. Among the topics Tomasson examines are the Icelanders’ involvement in their history and national literary tradition; their social, political, and economic life; the high level of literacy; the pervasive tolerance of Icelanders in moral and religious matters; their values; and the use of alcohol. Readers interested in the Scandinavian countries and in the comparative study of societies will find Iceland a useful analysis of a significant and little known national culture.
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