For books on Minnesota , no store can compete with the exhaustive inventory at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
Martin, Janet and Suzann Nelson. Growing Up Lutheran: What Does This Mean? Minnesota: Martin House Publications, 1997. The book that spawned a trio (so far) of Church Basement Ladies plays will have you rolling in the aisles and nodding in recognition, no matter how much time you’ve spent in Minnesota.
Mohr, Howard. How To Talk Minnesotan. New York: Penguin, 1987. A thoroughly hilarious primer on not only how to talk like, but how to be, a Minnesotan. Although Mohr claims that his book is only “a good deal,” it is absolutely a heckuva deal.
Carley, Kenneth. The Dakota War of 1862. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001. A balanced and accessible account of Minnesota’s own civil war.
Folwell, William Watts. A History of Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1969. This encyclopedic four-volume set is unquestionably the best historical resource available—at least up to the 1920s, when its account terminates.
Meier, Peg. Bring Warm Clothes. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009. Meier’s compilation of letters and diary entries offers a fascinating look at Minnesota’s past—from the early explorers through World War II.
Risjord, Norman K. A Popular History of Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005. The most recent recitation of Gopher State history available ties in the events of the past with places you can visit today.
Cary, Bob. Root Beer Lady: The Story of Dorothy Molter. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002. One of the most remarkable legends of Minnesota’s Northwoods, city girl Dorothy Molter left Chicago to live off the land on remote Isle of the Pines in what is now the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness .
Holmquist, June D. (editor). They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1988. An in-depth but not too scholarly look at the people who made Minnesota. Many updated and expanded individual chapters of They Chose Minnesota are also available as part of The People of Minnesota series of books.
Yang, Kao Kalia. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Minneapolis, MN: Coffee House Press, 2008. A young Hmong woman tells the story of her family’s—and her people’s—journey from the refugee camps in Thailand to a new life in St. Paul.
Zochert, Donald. Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: Avon, 1977. The true story of the author whose books inspired the Little House on the Prairie TV series.
Enger, Leif. Peace Like a River. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002. This beautifully told tale, which begins and ends in small-town Minnesota in 1962, tends toward fable and fantasy yet still captures the character of Minnesota and Minnesotans.
Ervin, Jean (editor). The North Country Reader. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000. This diverse anthology of Minnesota writers spans the state from the prairie to the North Shore and from the pioneer days of the mid-19th century to the turn of the 21st. The 37 authors include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Garrison Keillor, and Carol Bly.
Keillor, Garrison. Lake Wobegon Days. New York: Viking Penguin, 1985. Keillor’s classic novel shares the complete story of the fictional small Minnesota town he made famous on his A Prairie Home Companion radio show. A truly delightful read whether you’ve ever heard the show or not.
Kling, Kevin. The Dog Says How. St. Paul, MN: Borealis Books, 2007. A beloved playwright and storyteller, Kling spins tales of his Minnesota childhood and his recovery from a terrible motorcycle accident. His voice—on the page and on the stage—is pure Minnesota.
Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street. New York: Signet Classics, 1998. This full frontal attack on the small-mindedness of small-town America is one of Lewis’s most acclaimed works. Though he named the town Gopher Prairie, it was a very thinly veiled portrayal of Sauk Centre, his hometown.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. On the Banks of Plum Creek. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. The only one of the nine Little House books set primarily in Minnesota , it gives a good account of the hardships of pioneer life in the 1870s.
Eckert, Kim. A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota. Plymouth, MN: Williams Publications, 2002. Minnesota’s bible of bird-watching covers over 1,000 sites with detailed maps. It also provides superb background information on Minnesota species and seasons.
Henderson, Carrol, Andrea Lambrecht, et al. Traveler’s Guide to Wildlife in Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota’s Bookstore, 1997. A bulky but excellent guide to 120 of the top wildlife-viewing spots, with maps and information about what to look for where and when.
Madson, John. Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie. Ames, IA: Iowa State Press, 1996. A beautifully written yet intricately detailed look at the complex ecology and long history of the tallgrass prairie.
Moyle, John B., and Evelyn W. Moyle. Northland Wildflowers: The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. The standard reference to Minnesota’s wildflowers. It details over 300 species and is filled with photos for easy identification.
Ojakangas, Richard W., and Charles L. Matsch. Minnesota’s Geology. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. As close to the complete story of the state’s formation as one could hope for. It is filled with maps, charts, and photos, which make following the detailed descriptions fairly easy, even for those without a geology background.
Olson, Sigurd. Songs of the North. New York: Penguin, 1995. Olson was such a powerful force for conservation in the Boundary Waters that reading his essays is the next best thing to being there.
Seeley, Mark. Minnesota Weather Almanac. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006. Beyond the when and what of Minnesota’s favorite topic of conversation—the weather—meteorologist and lifelong Minnesotan Seeley shares the why and the how.
Tester, John R. Minnesota’s Natural Heritage: An Ecological Perspective. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995. This excellent book, beautifully illustrated and filled with helpful charts and graphs, offers a detailed and comprehensive overview of Minnesota ecology. It’s required reading in many college courses, but so well written that those without a science background can easily take it all in.
Breining, Greg. Paddling Minnesota. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, 1999. The bible of Minnesota paddling describes and maps over 100 lake and river trips.
Farris, Mike. Rock Climbing Minnesota and Wisconsin. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, 2000. A very useful guide covering 10 locales in Minnesota. Photos and maps help you identify the hundreds of routes.
Johnson, Mickey. Flyfisher’s Guide to Minnesota. Belgrade, MT: Wilderness Adventures Press, 2001. A very comprehensive listing of where, when, and how.
Johnson, Steve. Mountain Biking Minnesota. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2002. Sixty-three off-road rides for all abilities.
Pauly, Daniel. Exploring the Boundary Waters. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. With recommended routes from every entry point, this is an invaluable resource for planning a trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness .
Pukite, John. Hiking Minnesota. Helena, MT: Falcon Publishing, 1998. The 87 featured hikes, each of them mapped, offer a good selection of what the whole state has to offer.
Weinberger, Mark. Short Bike Rides in Minnesota. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1998. A handy little guide that describes and maps 40 scenic rides across the state, most of them loops.
Ayen, Norm, and Shane Weibel. Wineries & Breweries of Minnesota. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2005. The full skinny on 39 wineries, breweries, and brewpubs.
Dregni, Eric. Minnesota Marvels: Roadside Attractions in the Land of Lakes. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Minnesota loves its giant fiberglass whatevers, from walleye to the Jolly Green Giant. Dregni finds the high points and tells you the stories behind them.
Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. The WPA Guide to Minnesota. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002. Originally published in 1938 as Minnesota: A State Guide, this wonderful document is far too outdated to be of any help as a travel guide, but it offers a fascinating look at the state’s folklore and remains an invaluable historical resource.
Gebhard, David, and Tom Martinson. A Guide to the Architecture of Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991. This book will be a welcome resident in your glove box. It contains quick profiles of thousands of buildings in nearly 300 towns across the state.
Thornley, Stew. Six Feet Under. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004. A graveyard guide to the final resting places of nearly 400 notable Minnesotans.
Wurzer, Cathy. Tales of the Road: Highway 61. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008. Minnesotans love the highway that stretches from the Mississippi bluff country and up along Superior’s North Shore so much that they named it among the “Minnesota 150”—people, places, and things honored on the state’s sesquicentennial. Wurzer, a Minnesota Public Radio journalist, travels the length of it and digs up unique stories along the way.
Minnesota  is so singularly beautiful that I’ve seen very few photo collections that aren’t spectacular. These are a few personal favorites.
Brandenburg, Jim. Chased By the Light. Chanhassen, MN: Creative Publishing International, 2001. These Boundary Waters and North Shore photos would be special no matter what circumstances they were taken under, but for this collection Brandenburg limited himself to just one photo a day for 90 autumn and winter days. Truly amazing.
Keillor, Garrison, and Richard Olsenius. In Search of Lake Wobegon. New York: Viking Studio, 2001. A look, through the words of Keillor and black-and-white photos of National Geographic photographer Olsenius, at the small towns of Stearns County that the fictional Lake Wobegon is based on.
Ryan, Greg, and Sally Beyer. Minnesota: Simply Beautiful. Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 2001. Stunning photos of city and country (mostly the latter).
Ryan, Greg, and Douglas Wood. Minnesota: The Spirit of the Land. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 1995. A celebration of Minnesota wilderness, from the tallgrass prairie to the boreal forest.
Hauser, Susan Carol. Wild Rice Cooking. New York: The Lyons Press, 2004. Wild rice is more than just a food to Native Americans, and this beautiful little book tells the complete story of the official state grain. It also has 80 recipes.
Legwold, Gary. The Last Word on Lutefisk. Minneapolis, MN: Conrad Henry Press, 1996. Everything you always wanted to know about reconstituted cod soaked in lye (but were afraid to ask). Includes a lutefisk dinner directory.
McKey, Gwen, and Barbara Moseley (editors). Best of the Best from Minnesota. Brandon, MS: Quail Ridge Press, 1997. Over 400 of just what the name says, from Minnesotan dishes such as Norwegian flat bread and wild rice soup to the just plain delicious, like meatless lasagna and frozen mint dream dessert.
Ojakangas, Beatrice. The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2008. Casserole—or hot dish, as the locals call it—is practically the state food. And Duluth-based Beatrice Ojakangas has written 20 cookbooks on baking, Scandinavian specialties, and more. Put them together and you have a quintessentially Minnesotan cookbook.
Renewing the Countryside. The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook: Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2008. Through well-told stories of local chefs—from renowned Twin Cities restaurants and tiny outstate B&Bs—this richly illustrated book celebrates the food and places we love.
Bowen, Betsy. Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002. An alphabet book that takes children through typical sights and activities during a year in the Northwoods. Even adults will love Bowen’s woodblock prints in this or any of her other children’s books.
Butler, Dori Hillestrand. M is for Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. A fun, fact-filled picture book.
Button, Sara. Black Bear, Loon, and Walleye: A Fable From the Northwoods. Minneapolis, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, 2007. Three familiar Minnesota friends want to trade places with each other—and learn a little bit about walking in someone else’s shoes. The illustrations have a classic look, and the book comes with an audio CD.
McCarthy, Ann E. Critters of Minnesota Pocket Guide. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2000. This little book has facts and photos of 50 Minnesota mammals and birds.
Shaw, Janet. Kirsten’s Story Collection. Middleton, WI: American Girl, 2005. Kirsten, of the popular American Girl series, is a nine-year-old Swedish girl whose family immigrates to Minnesota in 1854. During the six-story series, combined into one book, she encounters a bear, goes to school, and has her house burn down.
Stong, Phil. Honk: The Moose. Duluth, MN: Trellis Publishing, 2001. A classic Newbery Medal–winning tale from 1935 of a moose who comes to live in town. Based on a true story from Biwabik .
From deep political reporting to shopping tips, Minnesota Monthly (www.minnesotamonthly.com ) has some of the state’s best magazine writers. Watch for well-researched travel round-ups, but otherwise the focus is heavily on the Twin Cities  metro.
Mpls.St.Paul (www.mspmag.com ) is Minnesota Monthly’s opposite number, with a little more emphasis on lifestyle features for the wealthier set. Their forte is making recommendations, from the driest martini to the best doctors, and their opinions carry a lot of weight around town.
Because no metro area can have too many glossy general-interest magazines, we’ve got three. Twin Cities Metro (www.metromag.com ) aims for a younger audience, perhaps with more aspirations and attitude than cash.
The Boundary Waters Journal (www.boundarywatersjournal.com ), a thick quarterly published out of Ely , covers travel and natural history for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness  and around.
Lake Superior Magazine (www.lakesuperior.com ) is a quality bimonthly covering the entire Lake Superior region, but as it is published in Duluth , the Minnesota portion gets a great deal of coverage. The photography is invariably excellent.
The hard-to-find Big River (www.bigrivermagazine.com ) is an enthusiastic bimonthly focusing on the past, present, and future of the Mississippi River between St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Davenport, Iowa.
Lake Country Journal (www.lakecountryjournal.com ) is a bimonthly lifestyle magazine for north-central Minnesota.