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Praise for 38 Nooses

One hundred and fifty years ago, what we now call the Dakota War of 1862 raged across the Minnesota frontier. The bloody events of that conflagration might not receive the attention of avid history readers today because of the Civil War’s own sesquicentennial. But they should, especially now that Scott W. Berg’s impressively gripping narrative has been published. Berg masterfully tracks not only the tragic warfare and deadly dilemmas in Minnesota, but also the progress of the massed armies to the East and the difficult decisions faced by the new first-term president from Illinois. He introduces us to key figures in the tragic events that unfold. Some stories, such as that of the captive, Sarah Wakefield, and her Dakota protector, Chaska, are remarkable dramas. Other episodes, such as the unyielding efforts for racial justice on the part of Episcopal Bishop Henry B. Whipple, show the flawed, but noble, intentions of friends of the Indians during this era.

     --History Book Club (Main Selection, Winter 2012)

Berg’s vivid account of the 1862 Dakota uprising in Minnesota focuses attention on events overshadowed by the Civil War, and deftly integrates the conflict into the larger sweep of U.S. history.

     --WUSA9 News, Washington, D.C.

An engrossing account of this tragic episode in American history . . . Minnesota native Scott W. Berg's finely grained portraits put a human face on that terrible time in Minnesota and U.S. history.

      --Minneapolis Star Tribune

Berg, a teacher of writing and literature at George Mason University, turns his attention from Pierre L’Enfant, planner of Washington, D.C. (Grand Avenues), to the Dakota War of 1862 in a gripping narrative of this little-known conflict and a careful exploration of the relationships between events of the Civil War and America’s expansion west. Berg illuminates the growing clashes between whites and Indians and reveals the contradictory stances taken by such participants as Dakota chief Little Crow, a white woman Little Crow had taken as a hostage, an Episcopalian bishop, army officers, and political leaders—including Abraham Lincoln. The first military commission used in the Indian wars sentenced 303 warriors to death after hearings that were held without defense representation and usually lasted only a few minutes. Lincoln stayed most of the executions, rejecting the commission’s criterion that “any armed resistance to white encroachment was worthy of death.” Nevertheless, in America’s largest mass execution, 38 Indians were hanged from a single scaffold in December 1862. Although the reader knows the eventual outcome of these battles—near extermination of Indian tribes and cultures—Berg maintains suspense about individual fates to round out this nuanced study of a complex period.

Publishers Weekly, starred review

 While Union and Confederate armies clashed at Bull Run and Antietam, another epochal—but largely forgotten—American struggle was being fought a thousand miles to the northwest. In vivid, often lyrical prose, Scott Berg tells a story of courage and ruthlessness, mercy and retribution.

—Adam Goodheart, best-selling author of 1861

Telling a story is what Berg does best; his style is easy and flowing – filled with color, emotion, and analysis.

       --Randy Buchman, "Enfilading Lines" blog

Throughout the sweeping narrative, Berg skillfully weaves in various perspectives, including that of Sarah Wakefield, a woman held captive by the Dakotas, and Bishop Henry Whipple, a paternalistic advocate for the native people. Yet Berg’s greater accomplishment is his ability to overlap the little-known Dakota War with its far better known counterpart, the American Civil War. The author’s juxtaposition offers readers a contextual framework that provides unique insight into the era. For instance, just days after the mass execution, Lincoln issued the text for the Emancipation Proclamation, prompting curious readers to wonder: How does a country see fit to condemn one group of people to death, and then, less than a week later, set another group free.

 A captivating tale of an oft-overlooked, morally ambiguous moment in American history.

–Kirkus, starred review

 Rarely do I find great storytelling based on rigorous research. In 38 Nooses, Scott W. Berg hits both marks.

–Carrie Reber Zeman, co-editor, A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War

 38 Nooses shines new light on a little known and tragic chapter in American history. Thoroughly researched, richly detailed, this compelling narrative gives ‘The Battle Hymn of Freedom’ a new and ironic connotation. You will never think of the events of 1862-63 and Lincoln’s leadership in quite the same way again.

—Robert Morgan, author of Lions of the West

 This fascinating book examines the opening salvo in the U.S. conquest of the Great Plains and is highly recommended for all readers.

Library Journal

 38 Nooses vividly shows the pressures facing Dakota Indians in 1862, the pent-up conflicts between white settlers and Native people in the Upper Midwest, and the stretched resources and flawed judgments of local and federal officials during the Civil War years.  In spellbinding fashion, Scott W. Berg tells a previously neglected story with tragic historical reverberations.

—Jack El-Hai, author of The Lobotomist and Lost Minnesota

 Although Berg’s sympathies are clearly with the Dakota, he avoids preaching and strives successfully to present a balanced narrative of the conflict while providing excellent portrayals of some of the key participants. This is a valuable but understandably depressing account of an obscure but important episode in our history.



Praise for Grand Avenues

 [Berg] scrupulously reviews the historical record, makes informed guesses where he can and expertly guides the reader through the details of this fascinating and momentous story.

–Witold Rybczynski, The Wall Street Journal

 The life of L'Enfant has long needed a lively, thorough, fair-minded accounting, and this is precisely what it gets in Grand Avenues. Scott W. Berg . . . has gifts for narrative exposition and vivid description, which serve him well throughout . . . Berg tells the story with appealing empathy and comes to a rousing -- and proper --conclusion: L'Enfant's plan was "the first great artistic achievement that could truly be called 'American.'

Benjamin Forgey, Washington Post Book World, cover review

 Scott W. Berg has created a readable portrait of Pierre Charles L'Enfant that shows the artist in full, with both his great gifts and Icarus-like ambition.

David A. Price, author of Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation

 Elegantly written and sensibly paced . . . Scott W. Berg vividly reconstructs L'Enfant's life, from his Paris childhood to the Revolutionary War (in which he fought for the Americans and was so badly wounded in battle he was left for dead) to his apogee as a friend of George Washington's (with total artistic control over the design of the new city) to his decline into debt and obscurity.

 A story not just of a frenzied urban endeavor but a model for historical biography.

The New York Sun

 A welcome narrative... Berg performs sterling service in excavating this little-known story from the archives.

Publishers Weekly, starred review

 A lively and literate view of Washington's early history, with liberal dashes of intrigue for good measure. 

Kirkus Reviews

 L'Enfant's idiosyncratic personality interfered with his complete success yet only serves to make this . . .  a fascinating read.


 Assiduously researched and richly detailed . . . from the very first chapter, Berg makes the reader keenly aware of the tension between L'Enfant's lofty aspirations and the muddy reality along the banks of the Potomac River. 

Cleveland Plain Dealer

 During the spring and summer of 1791, Pierre 'Peter' Charles L'Enfant took 100 square miles of farmland and forest and began planning what would eventually become the nation's capital. Dismissed from the project before its completion,L'Enfant spent the rest of his life fighting for the recognition he deserved. Berg, a frequent writer for The Washington Post, has written a definitive biography about a significant, but forgotten, figure in American history.

Tucson Citizen

No visitor to the nation’s capital can fail to appreciate the stunning layout of the city’s central landscape—the pivotal Mall, the Capitol perched on a hilltop and the stately diagonal thoroughfare linking it with the White House. We’ve learned in school to associate Pierre L’Enfant with this majestic configuration. But as Berg points out in this highly engaging biography, that isn’t the half of it. To paraphrase Neil Simon: as an artistic genius, you couldn’t touch him, but as a person, you wouldn’t want to touch him.

Go Airtran, "Top Read"

 A fascinating story of narrative history. [Grand Avenues] will add a new dimension to a visit to Washington.

Roanoke Times & World News

 The reader never will be able to walk the streets of Washington again without envisioning the haughty genius of Major L'Enfant on horseback, oblivious to the rain and cold, looking down from Jenkins Hill . . . seeing one of the world's great capital cities spread out before him. 

Buffalo News (New York)

 A well-deserved portrait of an enigmatic historical figure who has long been overlooked by history textbooks . . . as you read through it, you may find yourself wondering, why didn’t I know this already? The experience of having learned something new about the country you live in is where Grand Avenues [gets] it strength. The history around the story is every bit as interesting as the account itself.

Winston-Salem Journal

 Fans of Dan Brown might want to give [Grand Avenues] a look. Supposedly the layout of Washington is going to play some sort of role in Brown's forthcoming book, 'The Solomon Key.' And even if it doesn't, hey, you'll learn something.

Tampa Tribune

 Berg's new book is a fresh take on how a young French architect, Pierre L'Enfant, pushed his radical plan to fruition.

The Hill

 Rich with biographical, political and historical detail.

 An impressive telling of a little-known story.

Towerlight (Towson University)

 Berg's use of primary sources to unearth the story of L'Enfant's rise to prominence, descent into obscurity and posthumous return to glory makes 'Grand Avenues' an impressive telling of a little-known story.

Howard County (Maryland) Times

 In this brilliant biography of the man who made Washington, Scott W. Berg looks back at L'Enfant's life and presents his story in a completely unique light. The creation of Washington isn't a simple story, but thanks to Berg's mastery of both literature and architectural history, 'Grand Avenues' comes across as a very readable historical document that faithfully chronicles one of the most important, yet little-explored, events in American history.

 Mr. Berg does quite a job drawing both the character of L’Enfant in a wonderful narrative style and [the] captivating story of the founding of the capital city. 

Buyer's Corner, Olsson's Books