Home / Collections / Podcast & Blog » Numbers 3, 4, and 5


Collections Up Close

April 24, 2008

Numbers 3, 4, and 5

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Lori Williamson @ 10:13 am


Many years ago I thought I had invented a wonderful little icebreaker. I asked friends, colleagues, and strangers at cocktail parties (ok, they were keggers) this question; “if you were banished forever from Minnesota but had time to grab a book or two, which ones would you take to help you remember the place you love?” (When you come from Irish rebels it is easier to imagine banishment than the more traditional “stranded on a desert island” scenario.) Thinking this would be a good way to begin a discussion of not only books but of what one loves about Minnesota, I was appalled that few people had an answer.

Well, folks, this blog is the place to remedy that. Plus it is always nice to have some time to think about the question rather than being blindsided by some know-it-all snot at a party. Let us know what your favorites are, and if you want to pair them with an alcoholic beverage and a piece of music, knock yourself out.

Three more of Minnesota’s 150 best books are:

Edward D. Neil The History of Minnesota; From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1858

William Watts Folwell History of Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1921 – 1930.

Theodore C. Blegen Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

It almost seems like a joke that there was a history of the state the year it was born, but it is really not that unusual for contemporaries to write history. Neil, serious about the subtitle’s statement “present time,” updated the book through five editions adding 338 pages of newly discovered stories and information to the growing appendixes. The added vignettes have wonderful titles such as, “An Effeminate Man” and “A Nose Bitten Off.”  Collectors will want to try to acquire the limited, large-paper first edition for their shelves. 

Folwell’s work is monumental. The amount of detail is overwhelming. In fact, Professor Norman Moen once told me that I would know more Minnesota History than almost anyone else if I just read the footnotes in this book. Try that; it is totally true! Collectors will want to have the ¾ leather bound limited edition and the 1950’s reprint.

Professor Blegen’s book seems quite dated now, but it is important for providing a one-volume history that, along with its author, facilitated resurgence in the study of local history. Taken together these three books also provide a case study in historiography.

Exiled? I’ll take Folwell, a cup of Pig’s Eye Parrant’s moonshine, and the fife and drums of Ol’ Fort Snelling. Maybe.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

Bookmark and Share

5 Responses to “Numbers 3, 4, and 5”

  1. LW Says:

    Wow, hard question.
    While Folwell is great, dense and endlessly entertaining, if I were banished I’d have to go with something closer to my heart. Which would either mean:
    1. Garrison Keillor. Homegrown Democrat. New York: Viking, 2004.
    It is just…sweet and funny and often true and reminds me about what I love about this place.
    2. Mary Wingerd. Claiming the City: politics, faith, and the power of place in St. Paul. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001.
    I could spend the rest of my days thinking about the differences between Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
    Music is tough too.
    1. Atmosphere, Say Shh.
    A beautiful song, both a lullaby and rally cry for the state.
    2. The Hold Steady, Stuck between stations.
    The sound of this band always makes me smile…and the name- dropping of local hot spots of my youth is entertaining too.
    Paired with a Summit Pale Ale, of course.

    Patrick Coleman reply on April 25th, 2008:

    Lori, You have such great taste in books, and pretty good taste in beer [although I pictured you a Surly girl], I should just trust your music selection even though I have no idea what you are talking about. Pat

  2. Mary Says:

    Hands down – “History of the Upper Mississippi Valley,” published in 1881.

    Also, “The History of the Ojibwe People” by William Warren.

    And “Indian Days in Minnesota’s Lake Region” by Dr. Carl A. Zapffe.

    I’d also bring “If You Want to Write” by Brenda Ueland and, this is a little weird and self-promotional, but I’d also take a copy of “A Big Hearted Paleface Man: Nathan Richardson & the History of Morrison County, MN,” which contains the full text of Richardson’s first histories of Morrison County. I keep a copy at my desk and find that I’m continually looking up things I’ve forgotten. While it may not be a state-wide resource, if I had to leave Minnesota, I’d want this latter book as a reminder of the origins of my home county.

  3. Laura K Says:

    That is a hard question, maybe you didn’t get answers because you were at a kegger? =]

    I didn’t grow up here, so I might not have the best background in the subject, but I would probably take along:

    1. I live in the Lake District so I like “The lake district of Minneapolis : a history of the Calhoun-Isles community” by David A. Lanegran, Ernest R. Sandeen ; with the assistance of Bonnie Richter, Valerie Stetson, Barbara Young.
    2. For heart-pounding action and drama, with an unhappy ending, “Over the earth I come: The great Sioux uprising of 1862″ by Duane Schultz.
    3. If the place I was exiled to had AV capabilities, I would probably take either “Last log drive in Minnesota” [motion picture] : spring of 1937 / Carl Henrikson, or some Atmosphere music. (“…this was back when Franklin avenue was still pretty. “)

  4. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Laura, how in the world do you know about “the last log drive”? My first job here was cataloging lumbering artifacts. Carl’s movie came in handy since, as a city boy, I had no idea how these tool were used. I suppose you have read all of “Buzz” Ryan’s books too. They probably won’t make the list of 150 best books. By the way “the lake district” is in England. I hate to argue with eminence like Sandeen and Lanegrin but I think you live “’round the lakes”.

An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs