by Helgi Gunnlaugsson
contributions by John Galliher
University of Wisconsin Press, 2000
Cloth: 978-0-299-16530-7 | Paper: 978-0-299-16534-5
Library of Congress Classification HV7028.5.G86 2000
Dewey Decimal Classification 364.94912

Is Iceland, universally perceived as a peaceful, idyllic nation, being threatened by an inevitable flood of crime as it enters the global community? In recent decades the Icelandic state has taken serious steps to curb mounting crime, establishing a specialized drug court and an undercover drug police agency. Public opinion polls clearly demonstrate Icelanders’ growing concern that crime and drug use are on the rise. In their provocative new book, Wayward Icelanders, Helgi Gunnlaugsson and John Galliher offer another, more nuanced explanation for recent Icelandic attitudes toward crime, one that takes into account the unique history and culture of this relatively homogeneous and isolated nation.

Wayward Icelanders explores how the threat of crime has affected Icelanders’ collective self-identity, producing an ever greater need for social control. Historically Iceland has provided stiff sanctions for the use and abuse of mind-altering substances. Drunk driving has long been systematically punished, and even beer was prohibited for more than seventy years. The rate of conviction for these crimes is high, even in a democracy that prides itself on protecting civil liberties. Even more troubling, however, is the low rate of convictions for rape cases, which suggests that such crimes receive less attention from the state. Drawing on the classic work of Durkheim as well as Kai Erikson’s Wayward Puritans, Gunnlaugsson and Galliher demonstrate that an escalating war on crime can threaten freedom even in a small, affluent, and relatively nonviolent nation like Iceland with a long-standing commitment to democracy and individual rights.

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