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At its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit's status as epicenter of the American auto industry made it a vibrant, populous, commercial hub—and then the bottom fell out. Detroit: A Biography takes a long, unflinching look at the evolution of one of America's great cities, and one of the nation's greatest urban failures. This authoritative yet accessible narrative seeks t At its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit's status as epicenter of the American auto industry made it a vibrant, populous, commercial hub—and then the bottom fell out. Detroit: A Biography takes a long, unflinching look at the evolution of one of America's great cities, and one of the nation's greatest urban failures. This authoritative yet accessible narrative seeks to explain how the city grew to become the heart of American industry and how its utter collapse from nearly two million residents in 1950 to less than 715,000 some six decades later resulted from a confluence of public policies, private industry decisions, and deeply ingrained racism. Drawing from U.S. Census data and including profiles of individuals who embody the recent struggles and hopes of the city, this book chronicles the evolution of what a modern city once was and what it has become.


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At its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit's status as epicenter of the American auto industry made it a vibrant, populous, commercial hub—and then the bottom fell out. Detroit: A Biography takes a long, unflinching look at the evolution of one of America's great cities, and one of the nation's greatest urban failures. This authoritative yet accessible narrative seeks t At its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Detroit's status as epicenter of the American auto industry made it a vibrant, populous, commercial hub—and then the bottom fell out. Detroit: A Biography takes a long, unflinching look at the evolution of one of America's great cities, and one of the nation's greatest urban failures. This authoritative yet accessible narrative seeks to explain how the city grew to become the heart of American industry and how its utter collapse from nearly two million residents in 1950 to less than 715,000 some six decades later resulted from a confluence of public policies, private industry decisions, and deeply ingrained racism. Drawing from U.S. Census data and including profiles of individuals who embody the recent struggles and hopes of the city, this book chronicles the evolution of what a modern city once was and what it has become.

30 review for Detroit: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker Queen of the Undead

    I was born in Detroit. Lived outside of Detroit for my first 19 years of life and then got the heck out of there. It seems that many people had the same idea I did for the same sort of reasons. Detroit, was or is messed up. However, I still have this weird affection for the city. I want it to succeed, thrive and basically become the great city that it deserves to be. I'm just not willing to stay around and wait for that to happen. Martelle wrote a great book about a damaged city. I didn't think t I was born in Detroit. Lived outside of Detroit for my first 19 years of life and then got the heck out of there. It seems that many people had the same idea I did for the same sort of reasons. Detroit, was or is messed up. However, I still have this weird affection for the city. I want it to succeed, thrive and basically become the great city that it deserves to be. I'm just not willing to stay around and wait for that to happen. Martelle wrote a great book about a damaged city. I didn't think this book would be interesting. But it was. I didn't think I'd care, but I did. I didn't think I could learn more about Detroit, but I was surprised. The great part about this book is how the book is written. You can clearly see that Martelle is a writer and not just someone listing historical information. Biographies are hard for me since I have a tendency to flip through the book like an encyclopedia. Find what interests me, and then flip to that section. However, with Martelle's book, I found myself reading page by page. I even went back and reread an interesting section twice. Go figure! Even if you never been to Detroit, never wanted to go to Detroit, or even if the thought of visiting Detroit scares the crap out of you, give this book a chance. You might be surprised.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael Foley

    I'm from Michigan. I've said before that loving Detroit is like having a sister on drugs. You love her, you want the best for her and you've seen those glimmers of what she could be if she would just make some difficult, but important changes. You feel powerless to help, but you still feel like there is something you can still do. You just don't know what. This book was fantastic. It does a very good job of breaking down the SEVERAL factors that led Detroit into it's current situation. I highly I'm from Michigan. I've said before that loving Detroit is like having a sister on drugs. You love her, you want the best for her and you've seen those glimmers of what she could be if she would just make some difficult, but important changes. You feel powerless to help, but you still feel like there is something you can still do. You just don't know what. This book was fantastic. It does a very good job of breaking down the SEVERAL factors that led Detroit into it's current situation. I highly recommend this book. Very well written and comprehensive.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    I liked this book well enough. It was a thorough look at the total history of Detroit, from the time of Cadillac and Lafayette. It was particularly looking for reasons why Detroit started failing following World War II when it was considered the "Arsenal of the World". Two main factors seem to be at work; racism and the short-sighted automotive industry. The lack of diversification of industry, the decentralization of the auto industry and of course, white flight all make Detroit the abject fail I liked this book well enough. It was a thorough look at the total history of Detroit, from the time of Cadillac and Lafayette. It was particularly looking for reasons why Detroit started failing following World War II when it was considered the "Arsenal of the World". Two main factors seem to be at work; racism and the short-sighted automotive industry. The lack of diversification of industry, the decentralization of the auto industry and of course, white flight all make Detroit the abject failure it has been since the '67 riots. It made me thing "what if" in so many places and saddened me completely when racism was at work. Martelle also gave example of pockets of hope, but ultimately it seems like Detroit will never fully recover. Sad I had a major problem with the reading of this book. The reader mispronounced many places that perhaps only Detroiters would know. It was jarring to hear Gratiot pronounced Grat-e-o. Or Macomb as Macom. It doesn't take much to find these simple things out.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Deidre

    The author, a former staff writer for the LA Times, definitely did his homework on this one, creating a rich story of a city that has tremendous highs and lows, growing and shrinking throughout the years. He weaves in current people connected to the city with vibrant figures from the past. There's a lot of heartbreak to the story and Martelle doesn't flinch from the ugliness, explaining the factors that led to some of the city's most dramatic events. Full review at: Yestereeyear.com The author, a former staff writer for the LA Times, definitely did his homework on this one, creating a rich story of a city that has tremendous highs and lows, growing and shrinking throughout the years. He weaves in current people connected to the city with vibrant figures from the past. There's a lot of heartbreak to the story and Martelle doesn't flinch from the ugliness, explaining the factors that led to some of the city's most dramatic events. Full review at: Yestereeyear.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cav

    This is my first from author Scott Martelle. Martelle is a veteran journalist and member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board. He also writes books primarily about overlooked people and events from history, according to his personal page here. Author Scott Martelle: Detroit: A Biography is a mostly chronological look at the history of the city of Detroit; including many of its notable luminaries and pivotal events. Topics covered here: *The history of race issues in the city This is my first from author Scott Martelle. Martelle is a veteran journalist and member of the Los Angeles Times editorial board. He also writes books primarily about overlooked people and events from history, according to his personal page here. Author Scott Martelle: Detroit: A Biography is a mostly chronological look at the history of the city of Detroit; including many of its notable luminaries and pivotal events. Topics covered here: *The history of race issues in the city; slavery and racial tensions. *The industrial boom and Henry Ford. *Prohibition. *The Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. *The War years. *The post-War boom. *"White flight" and the 1967 race riots. *The oil embargo of the 1970s. *The decline and loss of jobs in the city. Detroit's Michigan Central Station was symbolic of the post-war industrial and economic decline of the once-vibrant city, as well as symbolic of efforts to rebuild the city. The building was purchased by Ford in 2018, and is being refurbished and renovated. An abandoned Michigan Central Station: Michigan Central Station, July 2018: While the history of the city of Detroit is an interesting topic, I found the writing here to be fairly dry and unengaging at times, unfortunately. I was struggling to keep focus on the plot more than a few times here... I also took issue with the dominant narrative forwarded here by Martelle; most of the entire book seems to place all the social and economic problems of Detroit squarely on the collective laps of its founding white population, which is simplistic and sloppy. Much of this book reads like a long-form "WHITE MAN BAD". Martelle does not include the city's now majority black population in assigning even a minute causal role or contribution to any of the blight that Detroit has suffered since its heyday of the mid-century... 3 stars for this one.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rab9975

    Having lived in Western New York most of my life; and having distant family in Detroit, I was instantly interested in this book. This biography is a good introduction to the history of a city that is needs to be understood by the country. Common threads lead the reader through this book, most auspiciously, the rampant racism evident in the history of the city as well as the dangers of lack of regional economic diversity. Historic accounts, as well as personal accounts are woven together along wi Having lived in Western New York most of my life; and having distant family in Detroit, I was instantly interested in this book. This biography is a good introduction to the history of a city that is needs to be understood by the country. Common threads lead the reader through this book, most auspiciously, the rampant racism evident in the history of the city as well as the dangers of lack of regional economic diversity. Historic accounts, as well as personal accounts are woven together along with a detailed geography of the city. The author is a former Detroit Free Press journalist, which gives him access to and perspective on the city. It seems that the spaces we create for ourselves on the surface of the earth can become vibrant enterprise or they can become a void. And for that reason decisions and choices that are made on the individual level as well as the aggregate can accumulate and have their own velocity. Great read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    I bought this book as a gift for my oldest son who plans to move to Detroit in a few years. This book reminded me a lot of Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." It seems Detroit even when it was successful has never known happiness. Martelle goes into detail about the pervasive racism that has plagued Detroit from the very beginning-so many riots. He has portraits of individual residents that are spread throughout the book as well. These are very interesting and give an individu I bought this book as a gift for my oldest son who plans to move to Detroit in a few years. This book reminded me a lot of Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States." It seems Detroit even when it was successful has never known happiness. Martelle goes into detail about the pervasive racism that has plagued Detroit from the very beginning-so many riots. He has portraits of individual residents that are spread throughout the book as well. These are very interesting and give an individual and personal edge to the story of mass violence, flight, apathy, etc.. It's not a happy story nor is there much hope for a happy ending but it's told with precision and thoroughness. I only wish there had been some maps and more pictures. What are we going to do about Detroit? It's New Orleans without a Katrina.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    I learned some early history of Detroit from this book. Unfortunately, the tone of the book was heavily biased and overtly blamed racism for all the ills of the city and the author seemed able to conjecture intent when no one else has been able to do so. The theme was definitely racism and the author tried to plant that as an evil in Detroit's history as early as the beginning of 1800 - not sure how he could do that without substantiation. He only glossed over Coleman Young and only mentioned Kw I learned some early history of Detroit from this book. Unfortunately, the tone of the book was heavily biased and overtly blamed racism for all the ills of the city and the author seemed able to conjecture intent when no one else has been able to do so. The theme was definitely racism and the author tried to plant that as an evil in Detroit's history as early as the beginning of 1800 - not sure how he could do that without substantiation. He only glossed over Coleman Young and only mentioned Kwame Kilpatrick in one sentence without referring to all his associated scandals.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dick

    My brother Tom read his book, then suggested that my wife Shari read it given that she and her family is from the greater Detroit area. As she was reading it, she kept saying that I needed to read it, since I am from Ann Arbor and grew up knowing about Detroit, right? Wrong. I hardly knew anything at all about Detroit and its history. A bit embarrassing given that I am a student of history. The book does a good job of sharing the history of Detroit from its founding through a number of transitio My brother Tom read his book, then suggested that my wife Shari read it given that she and her family is from the greater Detroit area. As she was reading it, she kept saying that I needed to read it, since I am from Ann Arbor and grew up knowing about Detroit, right? Wrong. I hardly knew anything at all about Detroit and its history. A bit embarrassing given that I am a student of history. The book does a good job of sharing the history of Detroit from its founding through a number of transitions to the current fiasco that defines that city. It is interesting that what has happened to Detroit is due to a series of many small decisions combined with larger ones made by a variety of people. Clearly the ups and downs of the auto industry are a central part of the story, but that is not all of what happened. Lack of forward thinking by politicians, businessmen and perhaps not enough activism on the part of residents all played a role and have in the final analysis had a devastating impact. The book modified my thinking on that. One party rule is part of the equation, but not as much as I would have thought. The party involved is not the issue, it is one party leadership/rule that will do the damage - all politicians when they have no loyal opposition are subject to corruption. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The troubling aspects within the story concern me because I can see some of the same mistakes being made in Atlanta, though not nearly as serious nor do they seem to be as damaging. I gave the book for stars because it informed me far more than I expected it would and changed my perspective. My brother Tom did a fine review of this book and rather me babble on about it, I will share his review and close with that. Tom's review follows: "Given our family history in Michigan I was interested in this history of the city of Detroit. Beginning with the birth of the city as a French trading post; the British years; the opening of the Michigan territory following the construction of the Erie Canal; the Civil War years; the rise of the auto industry; the fractured race relations; the roaring twenties; the Depression and the depopulation of the core of the city. It is not a happy story. My great-great grandfather moved his family to Michigan from upstate New York in around 1850. They were among many who migrated to Michigan after the opening of the Erie Canal (1825) connected the central Great Lakes with the Hudson River and New York, making it possible to ship produce to the east coast. They would likely have made the trip to Michigan by boat across Lake Erie. Here is what one anonymous traveler recorded about that journey: Lake Erie was, “..subject to frequent and heavy squalls of wind.” Entering the Detroit River was a relief, “…after suffering , as you frequently do, in a boisterous and unpleasant passage of six or seven days in a small but dirty vessel” Approaching Detroit, “This view, of a clear day, is extremely picturesque and beautiful: as the wind gently wafts you up the river, its green banks, fine farms, covered with orchards, and their houses of a singular architecture, which you can but discern through the trees planted around it, or various fruit, or in full bloom.” Rises in the land were topped with “the large wings of a large windmill, attached to a neat round white building, cutting the air” p.28-9. The rise of Detroit as a manufacturing center around the automobile is of great interest. However, being a one industry town led to an over reliance on the rise and fall of that product. As car manufacturing left the city, nothing came in to fill its place. The years of the great migration of southern Blacks to the northern city, combined with periods of low employment created enormous racial tensions and the ‘white flight’ to the suburbs. Vast tracts of the city have not been rebuilt since the riots of 1967. The author compares the way In which these factors played out in Detroit, with how Pittsburgh, facing the same issues seems to have done better. One difference was that Henry Ford, unlike Andrew Carnegie, did not invest in the community. There is no Ford University for example as there is a Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Indeed Detroit has one university (Wayne State) to Pittsburghs’ eleven and the latter city was able to switch from steel to education and health care after the demise of the American steel industry. “It is a place of fractured relationships, with children being raised by young, undereducated, and often unemployed mothers, and men living in social isolation, also often undereducated and unemployed. There is a common thread, particularly in conservative circles, that the urban poor should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. But to be born in Detroit is to face imposing restrictions on one’s ability to become an educated, productive, and contributing member of society, from dysfunctional families as the norm to a failed school system to a crime-driven underground economy to an above-ground economic structure incapable of supporting itself.” P246 “For years our political and social culture has put the interests of corporations ahead of the interests of individuals and community stability. That has led to the decimation of the middle class, and well-paid working-class jobs, as US-based corporations shifted production overseas to keep up with the global drive for the lowest possible production costs. In theory, that is good free-market economics. But in practice, those production costs are, on the local level, individual jobs and neighborhoods. So as a matter of policy, we have traded our social and economic stability for higher profits for corporations, which has exacerbated the nation’s income divide and gutted the urban centers of our industrial cities and countless small manufacturing towns across the nation.”p252. The chapters detailing the history of the city are interspersed with chapters highlighting individual people whose lives illustrate the statistics and sequences of events. There is only one map and few illustrations or old photographs. More of these items would improve the book. Nevertheless, I found it very informative."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    If you are interested in learning and understanding more about Detroit, this book is an excellent choice. Easy-to-read, informative, and thought-provoking, Detroit: A Biography examines the evolution of the city from 1701 when the French began their endeavors in the area, to 2011 post the Great Recession with the city still reeling from decades of economic struggle. This biography offers a great perspective on understanding why and how Detroit and surrounding areas have evolved over the centurie If you are interested in learning and understanding more about Detroit, this book is an excellent choice. Easy-to-read, informative, and thought-provoking, Detroit: A Biography examines the evolution of the city from 1701 when the French began their endeavors in the area, to 2011 post the Great Recession with the city still reeling from decades of economic struggle. This biography offers a great perspective on understanding why and how Detroit and surrounding areas have evolved over the centuries. With testimonials scattered throughout the book, the reader gets to understand the city’s past and present by learning about the people who make up Detroit and its suburbs. While the author mentions themes of hope and resilience despite obstacles and hardship that citizen’s face throughout the book, he fails to see hope for change in the city’s near future that now is more apparent as we enter 2020. To get a more updated view of Detroit today, another book should be read, but despite this, I highly recommend this book if you enjoy history, are interested in Detroit, or if you live in the Metro Detroit area. Detroit: A Biography provides an engaging narrative about how cities evolve over time and what we need to do to help them thrive, and I believe that is important for all who live in or near Detroit.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Maria Gerardy

    Very interesting all the way from the exploration and fur trade to the resurgence in the 2010’s. Leans to the left, but still compelling points about The great migration, Henry Ford, Coleman Young, and the government’s role in the fall of a once great city. I listened to the book. The author MUST cringe at the mispronunciation of SO MANY WORDS. If you are interested in Detroit, this is an interesting, albeit idealistic, read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I've lived in the Detroit area my entire life, so one would think I knew about my hometown. Not so. I learned a tremendous amount from this book. It was engaging and fascinating, at times depressing and others uplifting. Detroit is nuanced, complex and this book captures that. It sheds light on things and aspects of my life in this town that I hadn't really contemplated. Thoroughly enjoyed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Patti

    (Actual, 4.5 stars) Wow, where to begin? I have a history with Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs (and was terrified to go into the city), practiced legal law in the city and taught in the school system. I now live in Ann Arbor which, despite protestations to the contrary, is very much a part of the SE Michigan/Detroit scene. Therefore, I felt depressed many times during this book. Martelle is upfront in that he can't possibly hit on every aspect of Detroit's rich history, especially not when there (Actual, 4.5 stars) Wow, where to begin? I have a history with Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs (and was terrified to go into the city), practiced legal law in the city and taught in the school system. I now live in Ann Arbor which, despite protestations to the contrary, is very much a part of the SE Michigan/Detroit scene. Therefore, I felt depressed many times during this book. Martelle is upfront in that he can't possibly hit on every aspect of Detroit's rich history, especially not when there are so many other books that do so. Still, I think he casts a wide net and comes up with a lot of interesting facts. What I took away from this book was Detroit is dead unless: a) we can change society/culture to put a community's and workers' interests above those of a corporation (and stopping the export of jobs would help, too) and b) we somehow change the racist attitudes of people. Neither of those is going to happen, and that is why this book convinced me that Detroit will not rise like a phoenix. The scattered urban garden plots, while interesting, are not going to save it. The handful of (white) artists moving in won't save it either. I suppose, if we could gather up Mr. Smithers and his Way Back Machine, we could visit 1945ish and convince the automakers to keep making products for the national defense. Or we could go to 1830ish and convince UM to keep at least part of its campus there (UM East there and UM West here in a2, maybe?). Or we could go back further and implant some sort of anti-racism in the hearts of men and women. But none of those things is going to happen either. One thing that I wish WOULD happen is that every anti-union, pro-outsourcing, "class warfare!" screaming motherfucker would read this book and see how disgusting, greedy and inhumane they are. But, that won't happen either. Despite my doom and gloom above, I loved this book. Martelle didn't try to sell us a bag of shit saying that the urban farm renewal will save Detroit! Or that the new Whole Foods will save Detroit! Or that having Quicken downtown will save Detroit! Or that the one or two restaurants that stand out like jewels are somehow the beginning of a new great age. No. None of those things will save Detroit. They might make it more comfortable for white folks to go there, but they aren't going to save the city. Not when you can make more money, for less work and get more respect slinging drugs in the underworld economy. Not when women keep having baby after baby after baby and men keep knocking up woman after woman after woman. Not when you can't get a job in your neighborhood. Look, I applaud people who are trying to do good things in the city--I really do. I saw people out sweeping their sidewalks at 7:30am when I'd drive up to school. I saw families in SW Detroit who would all walk to pick up their kids (dogs in tow) from school. I saw the earnest white university students starting gardens. I saw the people who tried and didn't want to give up on the city and kept at it and kept hanging on. If Detroit is to be saved or reborn or whatever, that is who will do it. But not unless society starts putting their interests before the rich men in suits at the top floors of corporations (or Capitol buildings) and not unless we start letting go some of the racism that seems to be in our DNA. But as I said before....

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robert Baird

    This is a well-researched encyclopedic history, that oddly fails to distinguish Detroit apart from any other post-industrial American city, and ends with a boiler-plate socioeconomic analysis of what has undermined Detroit and what can be fixed. This book does not meet the standard of the better biographical city histories that use details to frame a deeper narrative of the people and characteristics that give a place its distinctiveness, or essence. Detroit stands profoundly apart, and deserves This is a well-researched encyclopedic history, that oddly fails to distinguish Detroit apart from any other post-industrial American city, and ends with a boiler-plate socioeconomic analysis of what has undermined Detroit and what can be fixed. This book does not meet the standard of the better biographical city histories that use details to frame a deeper narrative of the people and characteristics that give a place its distinctiveness, or essence. Detroit stands profoundly apart, and deserves this attention, and while a growing number of authors, journalists and bloggers have described a part of the city's story, we may still be waiting for a book that provides something approaching a comprehensive view. We often see in this book statistics that confirm what we already knew- that Detroit's industrial breakdown was more severe and, apparently, more final. But apart from mentioning a few cursory theoretical explanations, the book doesn't get too deeply into why it was so bad and so irreversible. The book is strongest in its description of early- and mid-20th century events that portray the city's deep social fissures and economic short-sightedness. Martelle is persistent, persuasive, and right in calling Detroit's reactionary and race-baiting political forces to account for bringing the isolated and devastated city of today into being. His description of that process is truly helpful and instructive for today's context. However, the book abruptly shuffles through Detroit's post-1968 history where it may have been able to add new interpretations and discourses on what many are still trying to understand. Actually, the history stops a few chapters from the end and you're left with an out-of-place editorial on the standard ideas and critiques about Detroit that are already routinely discussed in the media these days.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Growing up in Detroit I would occasionally hear some fact or other, there was a race riot in Detroit in 1943, there was a mayor of Detroit in the 20's or 30's whose party was the Ku Klux Klan, that Henry Ford openly distributed copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc., but if I looked at any of the histories of the city available to me (I have one in front of me written by someone at Ford Motor Co.) there is no mention of these things. Scott Martelle's book doesn't just mention these Growing up in Detroit I would occasionally hear some fact or other, there was a race riot in Detroit in 1943, there was a mayor of Detroit in the 20's or 30's whose party was the Ku Klux Klan, that Henry Ford openly distributed copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc., but if I looked at any of the histories of the city available to me (I have one in front of me written by someone at Ford Motor Co.) there is no mention of these things. Scott Martelle's book doesn't just mention these things, that is what it is about. As terrible as the history of Detroit is, the book is a pleasure to read. There are many insightful comments, e.g that there is no Ford or Chrysler University, and a bigger portrait is painted of many interesting Detroiters, e.g. Coleman Young, than I have seen elsewhere. Others have complained that the book is written with a liberal point of view, and that is certainly true, but a bigger falsehood would be to ignore it all, as most white suburbanite accounts do. The book is relatively short and Detroit is, or was, a big city with a long history, so many things go unmentioned or only touched on. Did Mayor Cavanaugh have ties to the Mafia? What was the nature and extent of Union corruption? What was the extent of police department corruption in the last 50 years? What role did the big three play in the absence of public transportation in the modern city? This book would be much better if it had some historically appropriate maps in it. In fact I think you could take the illustrations from a crappier history of the city and insert them with happy consequences.

  16. 4 out of 5

    abby barnett

    so out of all of my books this semester (besides gatsby) this one I read the most of. I probably read like 75% of it. So that's pretty impressive for me. ok so if you didn't know I live in Detroit. And this book was written by some guy who stayed here for like one year. He calls the city a failure over and over and is always talking about the tragedy that people here live in like wtf. There was a lot of clear and organized history and I see why we read it for class. But I mean seriously bro. I'm so out of all of my books this semester (besides gatsby) this one I read the most of. I probably read like 75% of it. So that's pretty impressive for me. ok so if you didn't know I live in Detroit. And this book was written by some guy who stayed here for like one year. He calls the city a failure over and over and is always talking about the tragedy that people here live in like wtf. There was a lot of clear and organized history and I see why we read it for class. But I mean seriously bro. I'm pissed he's making money off of people scared of Detroit. I mean it's not like there aren't people suffering in this city. There are so many and we can't ignore that and pretend it's all going well now. But why the fuck you gotta come after them like you know what it's like bro? Actually help someone or contact them and tell their story. Idk I guess he's coming at it from a white man economist like "yep. this is a failure." But dude there's so more to the city. It's not like he never talks about it. He defends Detroit repeatedly actually. But time and time again he concludes with dramatic apocalypse-like descriptions to sell more books and make Detroit like area 51

  17. 5 out of 5

    Steven Yenzer

    I wish Detroit had been longer. At this length, it felt like Martelle was skipping around rather than giving a complete historical account -- which, to be fair, he admits is his goal up front. I think a more comprehensive account of the latter half of the 20th century would have done more to answer what is really the book's central question -- why Detroit essentially collapsed. Of course, he provides plenty of reasons, including the influx of blacks during the Great Migration and the deep-rooted I wish Detroit had been longer. At this length, it felt like Martelle was skipping around rather than giving a complete historical account -- which, to be fair, he admits is his goal up front. I think a more comprehensive account of the latter half of the 20th century would have done more to answer what is really the book's central question -- why Detroit essentially collapsed. Of course, he provides plenty of reasons, including the influx of blacks during the Great Migration and the deep-rooted racism it created, the city's near-complete dependence on the automotive industry, white flight and the constantly shifting racial borders it created, and a handful of other factors (including drugs, crime, and a plummeting population). But something about the structure of Martelle's narrative just didn't pull these threads together for me. Maybe it's not really possible to tell a tidy story of Detroit's decline -- I could be hankering for a narrative arc that just doesn't exist in reality.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Al Larese

    Altogether, this was an enjoyable read. Of course, it's difficult to give anything but a concise history of a city with such a long and complex history as Detroit. The author tends to focus on key events, rather than give an overview of the topic at hand. About three-quarters of the way in the author begins to editorialize, and offer opinions (vaguely clouded as facts), some of which were rather insulting to me--a born-and-bred-Detroiter. I wouldn't let that stand in the way of my recommendation Altogether, this was an enjoyable read. Of course, it's difficult to give anything but a concise history of a city with such a long and complex history as Detroit. The author tends to focus on key events, rather than give an overview of the topic at hand. About three-quarters of the way in the author begins to editorialize, and offer opinions (vaguely clouded as facts), some of which were rather insulting to me--a born-and-bred-Detroiter. I wouldn't let that stand in the way of my recommendation, though. The section on the labor movement was particularly enthralling.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    A very misleading title! The book should have been called "Detroit: a history of relations between blacks and whites in the age of the auto industry." While an interesting topic, it doesn’t encompass the entirety of the city’s “biography.” Disappointed that it did not cover other topics, time periods, or the diverse ethnic groups and communities that helped shape the city (both in the past and today).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Interesting for anyone who has spent some time in Detroit and wonders when and how it started to fail. Martelle takes you through the history from early trading post to the the present, the executives that built the motor city, and the architects of its demise. A very sad biography.

  21. 4 out of 5

    gnarlyhiker

    So, if one was to purchase and read said book: whipty-do. If one were not to purchase and read said book: congratulations, you just saved yourself money and time. Unfortunately, I fall into the former.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    Very interesting and good! Opened my eyes as to why the city is as it is today. Had so much potential yet time after time shot itself in the foot.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joel Mendez

    A great introduction to the history of Detroit and what makes it tick.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John H

    I wouldn't say this book is able to stand on its own as a history of Detroit, but is a beneficial read in the sense that it offers an alternate diagnoses of Detroit's current woes than we are generally used to. Instead of saying that Detroit's current plight is due largely to corrupt politicians and excessively high wages that were driven by powerful unions, as we're used to hearing, the author says that it's generally rooted in racism (formal and then informal segregation and then discriminator I wouldn't say this book is able to stand on its own as a history of Detroit, but is a beneficial read in the sense that it offers an alternate diagnoses of Detroit's current woes than we are generally used to. Instead of saying that Detroit's current plight is due largely to corrupt politicians and excessively high wages that were driven by powerful unions, as we're used to hearing, the author says that it's generally rooted in racism (formal and then informal segregation and then discriminatory hiring practices and then finally white flight as blacks moved into areas that were predominately white) and exploitive corporate policies (auto companies decentralizing (e.g. spreading their operations out across the US and then overseas), not being invested enough in the community, and being motivated by greed). I'll say he does an excellent job at explaining Detroit's history of racism but he spends way too much time in what feels like a recital of anecdotes that really just serves to belabor the point, and I think he leans on the explanatory power of racism a bit too much in Detroit's later history, and I just find it odd for him to ignore the fact that the massive bargaining power of the unions and the huge wages resulted in Detroit's lack of appeal as a manufacturing hub (though this can be explained by the fact that he seems to regard the legitimacy of unions and the large wages they bring as a first principal that's beyond reproach). Detroit isn't a coastal city; it doesn't have enough strategic appeal for corporations to live with those wages, especially in an era that saw the beginning of sprawling supply chains and global competition. The author is more inclined to blame a system that values corporate efficiency than inefficiencies that union dominance produced. The unions overplayed their hand, and I think any balanced reading of the history will reveal that, but the author mentions only once that high wages contributed to the auto manufacturers decisions to leave. Bottom line, you're probably going to like this book if you're farther to the left but nonetheless it's a well written book that has general appeal in that it shows you the racial strife that has defined much of Detroit's history and at the very least serves to provide an alternate point of view that we aren't used to hearing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Morton

    A very interesting, informative, and inside look at one of America's most influential cities. Detroit has had a rich, explosive, history from its earliest days. "The D" is also known as Motown, the Motor City, Hockeytown, any other nicknames. It is hard to talk about Detroit without mentioning automobiles, music, or sports. However, the city's history resonates with the inner bowels of racial tension in America, union power and other labor movements, the epitome of tensions between management an A very interesting, informative, and inside look at one of America's most influential cities. Detroit has had a rich, explosive, history from its earliest days. "The D" is also known as Motown, the Motor City, Hockeytown, any other nicknames. It is hard to talk about Detroit without mentioning automobiles, music, or sports. However, the city's history resonates with the inner bowels of racial tension in America, union power and other labor movements, the epitome of tensions between management and workers, and case studies in the mismanagement of local-governments. Detroit, and its residents, has rarely had easy years; a city seemingly under constant tension with a perpetual underdog attitude. Martelle delivers an easy to read and thorough historical look at Detroit. I particularly enjoyed how he highlighted various individuals that have made significant contributions (both good and bad) to the city's development. Augustus Woodward created a plan to redesign the city after a major fire, during the time when the city was in the running for the seat of the state's government. The unfinished pinwheel design, a modification of the Washington DC design, includes the self-named major-thoroughfare that acts as the artery for the city-to-suburbs. Henry Ford and his company transformed the city in many ways beyond the moving assembly line, such as an integrated workforce, harsh corporate security forces, and tense interactions between unions and leadership. I recommend this book for Michiganders who want to know more about the state's most famous and influential city. Note: The reader of the audiobook did not do his homework and is clearly not from Detroit, or even Michigan. He mispronounced many uniformly accepted roads (e.g. Gratiot), counties, and other local attractions. This significantly detracted from the message and I'd give Blackstone Audiobooks a big thumbs-down for this choice.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Zach Studer

    This was an interesting book for me. The only reason I even have it is because it was for a World Urbanization class in college that I loved, but never got around to actually reading this for it. It's been sitting there on my shelf for a long time since reminding me of my shame until I finally picked it up to read 6 years later. I'll start by saying the facts presented in this book are on their own very interesting and valuable to anyone who wants a more encompassing view of Detroit and its rath This was an interesting book for me. The only reason I even have it is because it was for a World Urbanization class in college that I loved, but never got around to actually reading this for it. It's been sitting there on my shelf for a long time since reminding me of my shame until I finally picked it up to read 6 years later. I'll start by saying the facts presented in this book are on their own very interesting and valuable to anyone who wants a more encompassing view of Detroit and its rather robust history. And while I certainly appreciate the author's attempt at going back to the founding of Detroit, he made his book extremely dry for the majority of this history until he hits the 20th century. He does find more of a narrative voice with the more recent history and his delving into the inextricable link between the history of the city and racism are excellent. At the end he also speaks briefly about how the singleness of Detroit's economy also helped doom it and I perhaps would have liked to hear a bit more about that. All-in-all an informative book that can have some rough edges at times.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jim Fulner

    The author Scott Martelle is a crazy left wing nut job who apparently has done some historic research. Not fun hippie libreal, more like crazy thinks-encourgaging-violence-as-long-as-its-against-those-who-thought-up-the-plan-to-make-a-company-succeed Socialist liberal. returnreturnWilliam Hughes, the reader of the a udio book, is an over educated twerp who insists on pronouncing things "correctly" (*read wrong*) think MAY-CUM count instead of Macomb and Grey-twa Avenue instead of Gratiot)returnr The author Scott Martelle is a crazy left wing nut job who apparently has done some historic research. Not fun hippie libreal, more like crazy thinks-encourgaging-violence-as-long-as-its-against-those-who-thought-up-the-plan-to-make-a-company-succeed Socialist liberal. returnreturnWilliam Hughes, the reader of the a udio book, is an over educated twerp who insists on pronouncing things "correctly" (*read wrong*) think MAY-CUM count instead of Macomb and Grey-twa Avenue instead of Gratiot)returnreturnThe begin is interesting enough going back to tribal days and early French settlers. Hughes pronunciation was already annoying here, but I thought he'd change once Michigan joined the union, nope. returnreturnBy the time we get to the industrial revolution Martelle is so blinded by hatred of capitalism that he cannot point out the valuable contributions Henry Ford and his competitors gave to the region other than jobs which apparently should be an Americans natural birth right. returnreturnAll in all this one sided look at history is worth skipping. The more well rounded (though unfortunately shorter and more personal "Detroit An American Autopsy" is far better).

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    Scott Martelle provided some good early history of Detroit and much needed information about race relations of the city but I felt like this was a one dimensional book focused almost exclusively on race relations. I agree with some of the other reviewers, Detroit A Biography left me wishing he had done a real biography of the city. In this case the cover might actually be an indicator of how to judge the book—it is a very dark and forbidding picture. When I think of a biography I think of a full Scott Martelle provided some good early history of Detroit and much needed information about race relations of the city but I felt like this was a one dimensional book focused almost exclusively on race relations. I agree with some of the other reviewers, Detroit A Biography left me wishing he had done a real biography of the city. In this case the cover might actually be an indicator of how to judge the book—it is a very dark and forbidding picture. When I think of a biography I think of a full story. I was also looking for a full history is of the city’s amazing sports legends, Joe Louis and others teams, Art Deco architecture, world class art museum, the other ethnic groups and neighborhoods such as Poletown and Greektown, and other industries. There is little if any references to these topics. When it comes to specific periods like the Civil War or the 1973 oil embargo again it all turns to a focus on race relations and little about the larger historical impacts on the city. A misleading title. I’m Still looking for a real biography but the background was useful.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike Barat

    I don't care who are, if you have any interest at all in how cities run or don't run, you need to read this book. Detroit was a booming city when the automobile became popular and cheaper because of the assembly line. After the stock market crashed in 1929 of course car sales went down, and left many people out of work. Even after the industry got back on it's feet due to World War Two Detroit had a huge problem with race relations and out right racism, not the least of reasons being that both I don't care who are, if you have any interest at all in how cities run or don't run, you need to read this book. Detroit was a booming city when the automobile became popular and cheaper because of the assembly line. After the stock market crashed in 1929 of course car sales went down, and left many people out of work. Even after the industry got back on it's feet due to World War Two Detroit had a huge problem with race relations and out right racism, not the least of reasons being that both Black people and white people where coming from the American south to Detroit to get jobs in auto industry, and having Charles Bowles a klansmen as a mayor in the 20's and 30's was not exactly blessing either. This in part led to a horrible race riot in Detroit in 1943. And a history of bad mayors in Detroit certainly did not help the situation over the years either. If you are interested in political science or sociology I recommend giving this book a shot.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia

    A book filled with dates, names, and places all of which try to define, describe, and decry the decay of the City of Detroit. It points out the various civic leaders and police forces over the decades and how they interacted with, dominated, abused and legislated against the black population. It seems scholarly on the surface and the author has cited numerous sources for his facts and details. A few positives surface occasionally but they are few. It seems to be fair-minded but the reader is left A book filled with dates, names, and places all of which try to define, describe, and decry the decay of the City of Detroit. It points out the various civic leaders and police forces over the decades and how they interacted with, dominated, abused and legislated against the black population. It seems scholarly on the surface and the author has cited numerous sources for his facts and details. A few positives surface occasionally but they are few. It seems to be fair-minded but the reader is left with the impression that the author holds out little hope for the city to be any better, less racially divided, or more prosperous and successful. Of note is the fact that the author no longer lives in the city of the state.

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