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Duluth: An Urban Biography coming April 2020

The cover of the book Duluth: An Urban Biography by Tony Dierckins, forthcoming from Minnesota Historical Society Press (April 2020).

Zenith City Press publisher Tony Dierckins has a new book coming out in April 2020—and it won’t be published by Zenith City Press.

The good folks at Minnesota Historical Society Press are publishing a series of “urban biographies” of Minnesota’s four largest cities—Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, and Duluth—and Dierckins is writing the Duluth book. It will be called, simply enough, Duluth: An Urban Biography. The timing couldn’t be better: Duluth celebrates its 150th anniversary as a city in 2020. The Zenith City first became a city on March 4, 1870, and held its first elections that April.

All four books will try to encapsulate each city’s entire history in 40,000 words and 40 photographs. To put that in perspective Crossing the Canal, our history of Duluth’s canal and aerial bridge, is 65,000 words (and over 250 images); our history of Twin Ports breweries—Naturally Brewed, Naturally Better—contains 75,000 (with nearly 600 images); and Duluth’s Historic Parks took 115,000 words (and more than 300 images). Those books focus on one subject, and the urban biography will cover everything from the Precambrian lava floes that formed the bed of Lake Superior to the results of the November 2019 mayoral election.

Here’s how MHS Press describes the book:

Duluth, the beautiful city at the head of the world’s largest freshwater lake, has gone from boom to bust to boom and back again. In this richly textured urban biography, author Tony Dierckins highlights fascinating stories of the city: Its significance as the Ojibwe’s sixth stopping place. The failed copper rush along Lake Superior’s North Shore that started it all. The natural port on the St. Louis River that made shipping its first and most important business. The legend of the digging of the ship canal. The unique aerial transfer bridge and its successor, the lift bridge. The city’s remarkable park system. The 1920 lynching of three African American circus workers. The Glensheen murders. How Duluth has been dissed in popular culture. The evolution of the city’s east-west divide. And throughout the years, how the big lake and river have sustained Duluth’s economy, shaped its residents’ recreation, and attracted the tourists who marvel at the city’s beauty and cultural life. Cities, like people, are always changing, and the history of that change is the city’s biography. This book illuminates the unique character of Duluth, weaving in the hidden stories of place, politics, and identity that continue to shape its residents lives.

The book is scheduled to release April 15. We’ll keep you posted as to author events—include a launch party in April—so stay tuned!


  1. Mary C Benson on October 17, 2019 at 10:53 pm

    Can not wait for this book!! (Hi, Tony!)

    • Tony Dierckins on October 18, 2019 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Mary!

  2. Connie Jacobson on October 18, 2019 at 10:57 am

    This has been lacking for the city of Duluth and you are filling a need. Thank you for taking on this task. The last comprehensive history on the city and its people was done by Walter Van Brunt and ended about 1922, if memory serves me correctly. (Is there any chance you’d publish an unabridged version, perhaps in multiple volumes, on your own?) Thank you.

    • Tony Dierckins on October 18, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks, Connie. Mr. Van Brunt’s work is mostly taken from the 1910 two-volume history by Woodbridge and Pardee along with several other previously published pieces and a whole bunch of biographies whose subjects paid to be included in the work. Much of it relies on “recollections” of people 50 years after the events took place, and many of those doing the recollecting weren’t actually there at the events they “recollect”! It also contains a great deal of white-washing of the local Ojibwe history—but for researchers like me it is a great starting point if you follow up and do your own research. I will not be publishing a multi-volume history of Duluth because we have essentially already done that with “Lost Duluth,” “Crossing the Canal,” “Duluth’s Historic Parks,” and even “Naturally Brewed, Naturally Better,” each of which tells the history of Duluth.

  3. Sue G. on October 18, 2019 at 11:12 am

    I too like Mary, can’t wait. I appreciate all that you do/research about this area. Thank You!
    It would be nice to get an autographed copy when it’s available to purchase. Is that possible?

    • Tony Dierckins on October 18, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      Sue, I’ll be having author events throughout Duluth next April and May and will have autographed copies the book for sale on

  4. Richard Morris on October 18, 2019 at 11:26 am

    The release date can’t come soon enough.
    Though you’re confined to 40K words and 40 photos, I’m sure you’re up to the task because this book, as with all of your books, is a labor of love.

    • Tony Dierckins on October 18, 2019 at 12:04 pm

      Indeed, they all are—thanks, Richard!

  5. Lanne Nordin Mitchell on October 18, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    I can’t wait for this book. I am from Duluth & our family has always bought whatever books were published about the area. I hope they will have an early purchase date ahead of publication??

  6. Mark Nicklawske on October 19, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Congrats, Tony!
    Sounds like a great project.

    P.S. My mom just gave me “Crossing the Canal” for my birthday. My Dierckins collection is complete!

    • Tony Dierckins on October 19, 2019 at 6:28 pm

      That’s great—and thanks for the kind words!

  7. Ted Roach on October 21, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I enjoy reading all. Keep it up. Thanks

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