A lucid, impassioned volume in the revived ""Portraits of a Nation"" series. The facts about this country are diverse: the aurora borealis that lights Finland's wintry sky is uniquely linked to both scientific and mythological concepts; the sauna is at once a hygenic and a spiritual rest; the social programs guarantee each family's basic needs (and give Finland one of the lowest infant mortality rates); the Finns are not team players--a fact that has not only won them major medals in individual sports, but has helped them survive as a neutral country in regional and global battles. Meanwhile, the poetic nature of the Finnish language is inspirational: two euphemisms for bear, an animal so feared that to speak its name is to invite trouble, are ""honey paw"" and ""the apple of the forest."" The first snowfall arrives on the ""wings of swans,"" and there are several words for ""island"" and ""reindeer""--symptomatic of just how important these concepts are to the Finns. Adults reading this winning, encompassing chronicle may be tempted to start packing, while children will simply find this the most palatable of texts. Even when the authors are describing such potentially dry matter as geography or politics, their interest and articulation breathe fresh vigor into every sentence. Provocative and entertaining--a book that proves history can have a heart. Bibliography; map. Photos and index not seen.