Book Review: Gnarr – How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World

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The story of Reykjavik’s unconventional anarchist punk mayor. 

Jón Gnarr created the satirical Best Party in Iceland as a response to the country’s dissatisfaction with the political system’s response following the financial crisis which hit Iceland particularly hard. 
In Gnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World,he reflects on his beliefs and the experiences that led him into the mayoral position. 

The book has elements of memoir, political theory, Icelandic culture, and even some self-help-like snippets. It’s a wide spectrum of topics but they all go together after getting an idea of Gnarr’s unconventional personality. As a child he was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities and ADHD, and grew up with an abusive father. In his teenage years, he got into punk music which introduced him to anarchism. As an adult he landed in a number of jobs including taxi driver and comedian, which is something he became known for. Initially the Best Party started off as a joke, but the party’s platform (ranging from tickets to Disneyland to a real commitment to human rights) quickly amassed an audience and he became mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s only big city. 

Some of the chapters are previously published interviews as well as the letter he wrote to Obama, while others chronicle the campaign, his work-family balance, and his political beliefs on subjects like NATO. 

For readers in the U.S., some of the ideas he presents are a bit unfamiliar. Forming a coalition government isn’t something that’s done since there are only two parties that have any real power in the U.S. Some of the Icelandic cultural norms might also seem strange, like the difficulty he has in changing his name (all names and name changes go through a rigid system of approval by the Icelandic Naming Committee) or the importance of sheep. Additionally the sheer honesty in his actions and beliefs is pretty rare for a politician. As someone who identifies with anarchy, atheism, and is even known to occasionally cross-dress, it’s hard to imagine any like-minded person being elected in the U.S. 

Gnarr did not seek a second term as mayor even though he probably would have won and it remains to be seen where his life will lead. But I expect his vision for working toward a truly democratic society and being slightly outlandish while doing so will surely continue.

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