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May 9, 2008

Numbers 8, 9, and 10

Filed under: 150 Best Minnesota Books — Lori Williamson @ 3:32 pm


Natural History is destiny. In Minnesota anyway. Hell, if it weren’t for the beaver the only language you could hear around here would be Dakota. The great outdoors and the environment are crucial to our identity as Minnesotans, as many books on the 150 list will eventually attest. We care about our surroundings. We keep phenological journals to remember when the ice went out and when the first foolish robins show up in our back yards and we keep it to ourselves when we find a patch of morels. Fortunately for us, scientists have been describing the flora and fauna of this state for 150 years and surely will never be done. Let’s get started with three of the “best” books in this field.


Thomas S. Roberts. The Birds of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1932. gnawers-res.jpg

C. L. Herrick. Mammals of Minnesota: A Scientific and Popular Account… Minneapolis: Harrison and Smith, State Printers, 1892.

Conway MacMillan. Minnesota Plant Life. Saint Paul: Geological and Natural History Survey, 1899.

In my opening post for this blog I was only slightly joking about Nachtrieb’s The Leeches of Minnesota being one of the 150 best Minnesota books. It is more beautiful than The Mosquitoes of Minnesota by William Owen and not as compelling as Washburn’s The Hymenoptera of Minnesota. Roberts’ two-volume work, however, is the king of these natural histories. See this glowing review of Roberts in the July 1932 issue of “Auk” . The Birds of Minnesota has gorgeous illustrations by Allan Brooks, F. Lee Jaques [of whom we will hear more later], Walter Breckenridge, Walter Alois Weber, and even Louis Agassiz Fuertes. Compulsive collectors will need to own several copies of Birds. There is a signed, limited, ¾ leather edition and several updated editions. Like all of these books, Roberts provides a snapshot in time of the state’s environment. It is surprising to see what birds are no longer native to this area for example, or to think about unlisted species that have now come to exploit a Minnesota habitat. Herrick’s early work on mammals is wonderful for its very funky illustrations, although educators today prefer Evan B. Hazard’s 1982 Mammals of Minnesota with its beautiful illustrations by Nan Kane. Finally, MacMillan is one of those books you would have to take if you were banished from the state. You can almost smell the various environments he describes. plant-life-res.jpg

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3 Responses to “Numbers 8, 9, and 10”

  1. sarah pace Says:

    I’m delighted to find Roberts “The Birds of Minnesota” on your list. It was given to me for my 50th birthday a few years ago by a brilliant and very thoughtful friend. It is one the most treasured volumes in my modest collection of Minnesota natural History Books. The same genius also gave me “There Once was a Puffin” by Florence Page Jaques – might you consider that as well?

  2. jane Says:

    As a Minnesota native headed to Seattle in the fall, I was inspired by your description of MacMillan’s “Minnesota Plant Life”. If it’s truly “one of those books you would have to take if you were banished from the state”, I decided I need to get a copy before heading west. I was able to find it on amazon.com and look forward to having a copy of my own. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Patrick Coleman Says:

    Seattle!? Jane, Glad you found a copy of the plant life book. I’m pretty sure one of Conway MacMillan’s chapters is on mold. Might come in handy in Seattle, yes? Hurry back.

    Thanks for mentioning “Puffin”, Sarah. It is highly sought after because it is such a rare Jaques item but it is also very funky. Doesn’t it begin “There once was a Puffin who sat on a muffin…”? Bound in wallpaper cloth I think.

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