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Jack Zaleski, Published November 12 2011

Zaleski: ND ‘Blue Book’ a treasure trove of data

I’m a fan of North Dakota’s “Blue Book,” the state-generated volume about all-things North Dakota that is published every two years. The new book, the 2011-2013 edition, is among the best in the long-running series. The books have become especially compelling for data wonks, history buffs and political science students since Secretary of State Al Jaeger and his dedicated staff and crew of volunteers have been putting the books together.

OK. I can hear it now. The Blue Book? You have got to be kidding! Can anything be duller? As one of my colleagues in The Forum newsroom said, I’ll pick it up when I want to get to sleep right away.

Well, maybe that’s what the Blue Book would do for some people. It’s not a romance novel or a spy thriller. But of course, it’s not meant to be.

It is meant to be a definitive exposition of North Dakota facts, lore, history and heritage. The new book meets that challenge and more. For example, it opens with 42 pages of fascinating information about the state’s prehistory by state paleontologist Dr. John Hoganson of the N.D. Geological Society. Hoganson’s article is a condensed, informative journey through the state’s prehistoric past, from the oldest findings in the fossil record, through the age of dinosaurs and to just after the last ice age. It’s a timely piece for a state that has become one of the nation’s most important troves of fossils.

The volume also features page after page of information about the state, ranging from vital statistics to elections to education, to government structure to agriculture and much more. What is not included in the new book can often be found in previous volumes, and the new book directs readers to the right places.

In order to make all that historical data easily accessible, Jaeger and his crew and the historical society have been putting the older books online. Fifteen books can be accessed that way. It’s a great way to preserve an archive of data that previously was only available in printed book form, and some of the older books were getting hard to find. And of course, an online version of the newest Blue Book is available.

But I like the colorful print version. It’s got heft and substance. It’s credible and interesting. It’s not beach reading, or a book you might curl up with in front of a winter fire. But if learning about North Dakota is for you, the new Blue Book is a great read.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.