The sesquicentennial of the U.S.—Dakota War has heightened Minnesota’s awareness of that tragic event while also whetting our appetite to appreciate more deeply who we are and how we arrived here. Two recent books may be landmarks in that evolving discovery process. Another recent book heightens our awareness of the role of women in the development of the arts in Minnesota during the last century. Two other books have endured in popularity after three decades: a description of the devastation of the Hinckley fire and a parody of Minnesota culture.

“North Country: The Making of Minnesota”
Mary Lethert Wingerd
University of Minnesota Press

The beginning of time is recounted by a Dakota on the first page of this book. For many centuries, the Dakota were a fortunate people living on an abundant land isolated from the turmoil of the rest of the world. Beginning with this perspective, Wingerd reproduces visuals supported by facts and descriptions in rich detail to help the reader appreciate the great sweep of history leading up to what she calls the cataclysm on Minnesota 150 years ago. Wingerd has produced a most comprehensive scholarly work on early Minnesota history leading the Minnesota Book Awards to recognize her twice, once in 2011 and then again in 2012.

“Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota”
Dr. Gwen Westerman and Bruce White
Minnesota Historical Society Press

History is often told in the prospective of the teller. What better person than Dr. Westerman, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate tribal member, to interpret the history of our land by carefully conducting oral history interviews, researching archives and weighing sources’ information from Dakota, English and French? The resulting newly released book brilliantly intertwines generations of voices across cultures and geo-political landscapes helping the reader gain a new awareness of who we are and from where we came. Westerman is “a professor of English and humanities at Minnesota State University–Mankato, specializing in multi-cultural and Native American literature.”

“Pioneer Modernists: Minnesota’s First Generation of Women Artists
Julie L’Enfant
Afton Press

Winner of the 2012 Minnesota Book Awards in the “About Minnesota” category, L’Enfant’s coffee-table book highlights Minnesota’s 20th century female artists and their role in art schools, galleries and art institutions. L’Enfant, associate professor of art history, has commented and published on art and writers for over a decade. Thanks to her diligence in finding unpublished papers, interviewing collectors and descendents and examining artists’ works, L’Enfant has added new and bold brush strokes to an ever larger picture of Twin Cities culture.

Related: Best Book Clubs To Join In The Twin Cities

“From the Ashes: The Story of the Hinckley Fire of 1894”
Grace Stageberg Swenson
North Star Press of St Cloud
Available on

Every bit as horrifying as any “Armageddon”-like movie, a wall of fire moves with incredible speed to engulf several communities. Swenson researched, interviewed and assembled a prodigious amount of information with accuracy but tells a compelling story with an eye for human interest. The Hinckley fire leveled several towns, caused the loss of 418 lives and had a far-reaching impact on safety, rescue and conservation practices thereafter.

“How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide”
Howard Mohr
Penguin Books

On the lighter side, Howard Mohr, a former writer for “Prairie Home Companion,” wrote a book embracing the qualities of who we are. The book has endured well as Mohr produced a tape and wrote a musical, which has now played to over a million visitors. YouTube videos abound with themes from Mohr’s book as well.

Related: 5 Must-Read Books By Minnesota Authors

Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at