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Helsinki
A Cultural History (Interlink Cultural Histories)
Neil Kent

published 2014 • 5 1/4" x 8" • 247 pages • b&w illus., maps
ISBN 9781566565448 • paperback • $15.00

Helsinki is one of the world's most northerly capitals, but it is by no means a city frozen in northern wastes. Situated along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland, magnificent lakes and forests reach into Helsinki's urban heart, a rare event in today's world of suburban sprawl. The city's natural beauty, emphasized by parks and islands, is matched by an extraordinary cultural richness, the result of fruitful foreign influences and home-grown creativity. The Finnish capital offers a spectacular display of architecture and design: from the neoclassical magnificence imposed by a Russian Czar to the modernist chic of Nordic functionalism.

Neil Kent explores the history and culture of the Daughter of the Baltic, a small fishing village that became a powerhouse of design and technology.

Tracing its dramatic past of conflict and conflagration, he explores the evolution of a national, and urban, identity through architecture, art and writing. Through such differing cultural phenomena as saunas, railway stations and tango, he explains why Helsinki is a distinctive mix of tradition and innovation.

• The city of architects and designers: Engel, Czar Alexander I and the creation of an imperial metropolis; Alvar Aaalto and the birth of the modern; functionalism and high-tech innovation.

• The city of music and the arts: Sibelius, the national composer; conductors and performers; art galleries and installations; National Romanticism and the Nordic aesthetic.

• The city of hospitality: Art Nouveau hotels and cafes; sauna culture; famous visitors and refugees: Lenin and Hitler; multicultural Helsinki and a history of migration.


Neil Kent studied at the University of Cambridge, where he is Senior Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute. He has taught Nordic culture at the University of Helsinki and written extensively on Baltic social and cultural history.

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