Denmark: Recommended Books and Movies

By Rick Steves

To learn about Denmark past and present, check out a few of these books and films. (And see our similar lists for elsewhere in Europe.)

Books

  • Conquered, Not Defeated (Peter Tveskov, 2003). Tveskov combines historical fact with childhood memories of Denmark under German occupation in World War II.
  • The Fairy Tale of My Life (Hans Christian Andersen, 1975). Andersen's autobiography chronicles everything from his impoverished childhood to encounters with other literary greats.
  • Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life (Jens Andersen, 2003). The author reveals new dimensions to the man behind many famous childhood stories.
  • A History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland (T. K. Derry, 1979). This comprehensive tome weaves together the history of these five countries.
  • The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen, 1837). This charming story about a mermaid selling her soul to become a human doesn't end quite as happily in Andersen's original tale as it does in Disney's world. Other beloved stories by the Danish-born Andersen include The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, and The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
  • Music and Silence (Rose Tremain, 1999). Tremain captures Denmark in the 17th century through the eyes of a lute player at court.
  • Scandinavia Since 1500 (Byron J. Nordstrom, 2000). Nordstrom presents a readable account of the region's history.
  • Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales (Claire Booss, 1988). This collection of Scandinavian folklore includes illustrations by local artists.
  • Smilla's Sense of Snow (Peter Høeg, 1992). In this thriller set in snowy Copenhagen, Smilla looks into the murder of her six-year-old neighbor (later adapted as a 1997 movie starring Julia Ormond).
  • The Vikings (Else Roesdahl, 1987). Roesdahl offers a Scandinavian perspective on this complex Nordic society.
  • We, the Drowned (Carsten Jensen, 2010). This novel covers the wars and adventures of the seafaring men of the port town of Marstel — and the angst of the families they leave behind.
  • Winter's Tale (Isak Dinesen, 1942). Best known for her memoir Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen (a.k.a. Karen Blixen) set most of these short stories in her homeland of Denmark.

Films and TV Shows

  • Babette's Feast (1987). This Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, about a Frenchwoman taking refuge in rural 19th-century Denmark, is the original foodie movie (based on the novel by Isak Dinesen).
  • Borgen (2010–). In this dramatic political TV series, principal character Birgitte Nyborg juggles her ambitions as the first female prime minister of Denmark with her responsibilities as a wife and mother.
  • The Bridge (Danish: Broen; Swedish: Bron; 2011–). This crime drama, a coproduction of Swedish and Danish TV, follows the cases and personal lives of a brilliant but obsessive-compulsive Swedish detective and her empathetic Danish collaborator.
  • Italian for Beginners (2000). Thirtysomethings learn Italian in hopes of finding romance in a small Danish town.
  • Pelle the Conqueror (1988). A Swedish father and son emigrate to Denmark in the 19th century and work to build a new life in this film based on the 1976 book by Martin Andersen Nexø (winner of the 1989 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film).