Charlie LeDuff, 2013
We all know what happened to Detroit. We know it was once the richest city in America and now is the poorest. But how? As planners and urbanists, we should know how this happens.
LeDuff provides some explanation, casting a steely eye on Detroit’s forty-year free fall in this series of sketches, melding his gonzo style with the unique insights of a native son. His is a sinewy and surprisingly humorous style of reporting that he’s developed as a staff writer at The New York Times and as a reporter for the Detroit News.
LeDuff takes Detroit personally. The crime, racism, crooked politicians, police brutality, incompetent auto executives—they’ve all hammered a nail into the coffin of this once great city and its people. LeDuff mines the trials of his own family’s attempts to adjust to the new reality of a Detroit now without a middle class and without much hope of one to come.
Detroit used to be a bellwether of American industry and the American middle class. Its death has been a long time coming. It started with the Japanese making better cars, the 1970s culture of drugs and divorce, and the end of the 6 o’clock family dinner. It continued with the “blue-collar suicide” of the Reagan Democrats, one-way suburban white flight, the crimes of former Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick and former Councilperson, Monica Conyers, municipal bankruptcy, and the burning of vacant houses as a cheap source of entertainment. Hard to say where it will bottom out, because like an addiction, there is no bottom. LeDuff’s accounting of a neglected dead man frozen in a pool of water at the bottom of an elevator shaft can be seen as a microcosm of the state of Detroit today.
Many of the stories in this collection previously appeared in the Detroit News and Mother Jones. They are reminiscent of the columns of my childhood newspaper hero, Mike Royko. I still miss Royko. It surprised me, when I left Chicago in my early twenties, when I discovered that other cities didn’t have a Mike Royko. I guess I assumed all big cities had one, just like I assumed all cities had an Art Institute. But sadly, they do not. It encourages me now to know that Charlie LeDuff is out there and that he’s looking out for Detroit.
This book will break your heart. But you should read it anyway. It’s a seriously good read.
“A little gonzo, a little gumshoe, some gawker, some good-Samaritan-it is hard to ignore reporting like Mr. LeDuff’s.” –The Wall Street Journal
An explosive exposé of America’s lost prosperity—from Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charlie LeDuff
Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass-production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures.
Back in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches the ruins of Detroit for clues to his family’s troubled past. Having led us on the way up, Detroit now seems to be leading us on the way down. Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass-production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures. With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark, and the righteous indignation only a native son possesses, LeDuff sets out to uncover what destroyed his city. He beats on the doors of union bosses and homeless squatters, powerful businessmen and struggling homeowners and the ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination. Detroit: An American Autopsy is an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer.