Lavery has produced a remarkable history of Finland, especially given the length of the book. He judiciously and engagingly covers not only the history and prehistory of the geographical place currently occupied by the Republic of Finland but also the limitations and possibilities of the historian’s craft. Although the author does not have the luxury of breaking new ground, he is conscientious and successful in selecting from the kind of recent research that makes this work much more than a repackaging of well-established narratives and theories.
Given the title of the series to which this book belongs—Histories of Modern Nations—it is fitting that Lavery devotes six of his nine chapters to the period from 1809 to the present. In many ways, he was assisted in this distribution of his attention by the fact that Finland had scarcely an autonomous existence prior to its separation from Sweden by force of Russian arms in 1808/09. Lavery negotiates this situation deftly in his first three chapters, neither exaggerating the early signs of regional and then protonational cultural and political identity within the eastern third of the Kingdom of Sweden nor celebrating them beyond their due within the context of the eighteenth century.
Lavery captures the distinguishing features of Finnish experience, including the darker side of Finland’s political history, and he points expertly in the notes and bibliography to further readings that can provide more detail about specific aspects of Finland’s past and present. His text is eminently readable, despite a few lapses in editing (misspellings, missing words, etc.). Less valuable are the thumbnail sketches of forty-five individuals who have contributed significantly to the cultural, intellectual, political, or sports history of Finland; any such abbreviated list is handicapped by the scores of profiles that would arguably have been equally worthy of inclusion. On balance, however, Lavery’s book is a welcome addition to the literature on Finnish history. It provides an excellent and up-to-date first bite at the apple for the foreign layman and foreign historian alike.