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Hillsider: Snapshots of a Curious Political Journey Hardcover – 2015
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Essays, anecdotes, illustrations, a bit of verse, and a bunch of photographs reflecting on a young elected official’s adventures in Duluth municipal elections, city governance, live music, craft beer, mountain biking, and more embarrassing public life and political lessons than a book this size ought to include.
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The book itself is hardcover, with heavy pages that are perfect given all the photographs. It looks and feels like a well-designed coffee table book. But the content is where Hillsider really shines. The book is broken down into three sections that cover roughly 15 years in the career of the author, Don Ness, the much-loved mayor of Duluth, MN.
Section I - In which a boyishly earnest and naive young man learns painful, embarrassing, and public political lessons while seeking adventure in city governance. (Ages 25-30, 2000-2005)
Section II - In which a young man looks up the word "tribulation" in the dictionary. (Ages 30-35, 2005-2010)
Section III - In which a rapidly aging mayor finally figures things out, then quits. (Ages 35-40, 2010-2015)
It's a love letter to Duluth (an incredibly picturesque city on the shores of Lake Superior as many of the pictures in the book prove), but it's also a funny and moving portrait of a young, idealistic politician who tries to do the right thing for his hometown despite facing the tough political and economic challenges that are inherent in political leadership. The author's writing style is breezy and hilariously self-deprecating (for example, he includes insults he's received like "From the neck up, you look like the Proctor Water Tower"), but it is also unflinchingly honest at times (as when he talks openly of the insomnia and doubt with which he struggled during the economic downturn that hit Duluth, along with the rest of the nation, shortly after he took office).
In the end, it's an intimate peek inside the mind of a Decent Man. The kind of Mr-Smith-Goes-To-Washington public servant that always seem to be in short supply. Read it, and be inspired.