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In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neat In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots. In another life, Charlie LeDuff won the Pulitzer Prize reporting for The New York Times. But all that is behind him now, after returning to find his hometown in total freefall. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed; where his sister lost herself to drugs; where his brother works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “Made in America.” 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 embeds with a local fire brigade struggling to defend its neighborhood against systemic arson and bureaucratic corruption. He investigates state senators and career police officials, following the money to discover who benefits from Detroit’s decline. He befriends union organizers, homeless do-gooders, embattled businessmen, and struggling homeowners, all ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination. Americans have hoped for decades that Detroit was an exception, an outlier. What LeDuff reveals is that Detroit is, once and for all, America’s city: It led us on the way up, and now it is leading us on the way down. Detroit can no longer be ignored because what happened there is happening out here. Redemption is thin on the ground in this ghost of a city, but Detroit: An American Autopsy is no hopeless parable. Instead, LeDuff shares a deeply human drama of colossal greed, ignorance, endurance, and courage. Detroit 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—and a black comic tale of the absurdity of American life in the twenty-first century.


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In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neat In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots. In another life, Charlie LeDuff won the Pulitzer Prize reporting for The New York Times. But all that is behind him now, after returning to find his hometown in total freefall. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed; where his sister lost herself to drugs; where his brother works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “Made in America.” 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 embeds with a local fire brigade struggling to defend its neighborhood against systemic arson and bureaucratic corruption. He investigates state senators and career police officials, following the money to discover who benefits from Detroit’s decline. He befriends union organizers, homeless do-gooders, embattled businessmen, and struggling homeowners, all ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination. Americans have hoped for decades that Detroit was an exception, an outlier. What LeDuff reveals is that Detroit is, once and for all, America’s city: It led us on the way up, and now it is leading us on the way down. Detroit can no longer be ignored because what happened there is happening out here. Redemption is thin on the ground in this ghost of a city, but Detroit: An American Autopsy is no hopeless parable. Instead, LeDuff shares a deeply human drama of colossal greed, ignorance, endurance, and courage. Detroit 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—and a black comic tale of the absurdity of American life in the twenty-first century.

30 review for Detroit: An American Autopsy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rachael

    It was a cold morning; the fog had settled in low over the city and the mood on the street was grim as always. I'd just finished reading the daily rag and was throwing it in the trash when there was a knock at my door. "Detective, there's a...there's a BOOK here to see you. It says its name is Detroit: An American Autopsy." "Christ. Send it in, Dolly, and keep your mouth shut about it." Dolly's full, plum-colored lip quivered as she turned to usher in the tome, her ample breast heaving within the It was a cold morning; the fog had settled in low over the city and the mood on the street was grim as always. I'd just finished reading the daily rag and was throwing it in the trash when there was a knock at my door. "Detective, there's a...there's a BOOK here to see you. It says its name is Detroit: An American Autopsy." "Christ. Send it in, Dolly, and keep your mouth shut about it." Dolly's full, plum-colored lip quivered as she turned to usher in the tome, her ample breast heaving within the stretched cotton dress. "So you've got the guts to show your face around here, eh, Detroit? Long time no see." "Eh. Times is tough. I got nowhere else to turn right now." Detroit: An American Autopsy hauled itself into the well-worn leather chair in front of my desk and sighed, its yellowed and tattered pages stinking of cigarette smoke, motor oil, and cheap booze. "You see, I got this guy- this Charlie LeDuff guy- he's runnin around Detroit with a tommy gun, only that tommy gun's just a pen, and that pen's runnin' out of ink, and we're all runnin' out of hope. That's where you come in." ___ I really hope that was as tedious to read as it was tedious to write. But there, now you know what Detroit: An American Autopsy is all about. It's miserable. It's depressing. But guys, that's DETROIT! Not one person in that miserable shit-hole of a town has something going for them! But no fear, you've got Charlie LeDuff, journalist, kamikaze cliche artist, and city-saver on hand. I'm assuming that the Sam Spade affectation is both an expression of vanity on LeDuff's part and probably a necessity of craft: by making this story more about him, and his interactions with others, it's not incumbent upon him to strive for a broad interpretation of what's happened to his hometown. The narrower focus is safer for him. I don't doubt that he's a savvy journalist, and it's possible that he truly does interact with people in the way he does in this book, but what he doesn't recognize is that every conversation really revolves around him and his manner of speaking not only renders him as a caricature, but transforms those around him into mere set pieces in his ongoing family melodrama. Yet this book receives rave reviews, and I'm mystified. Perhaps people consider him to be enigmatic; I find him to be brash, full of false bravado, and generally repulsive as a character. The misogyny is overwhelming: women are described by their breasts and "prophylactic-tight" dresses first, character second if at all. One baffling chapter has him fighting with his wife until she calls the cops. He's then hauled off to jail, comically invoking the 5th amendment outside of a courtroom. Ostensibly, this is to show just how "deep" he's in--- instead, it just makes him even less likeable and makes me wonder if he was desperate to chew up pages. It's probably impossible to get into a deeper discussion of racial issues in Detroit at the moment, because it's too raw, but I feel as though some of the raves for his work might be coming in because passages often (though probably inadvertently) contain a wink-nod confirmation of what many people seem to love whispering about Detroit: that, for all that ails it, what's really screwing it up is that THOSE PEOPLE ran it into the ground. LeDuff will hammer home the idea that everyone screwed up over and over, but it feels like each iteration of that is followed up with the wink-nod 'but from where I stand...' sort of deal. LeDuff's not racist. I don't think it was his intent to make it seem that he places the blame more on one entity than another. But everything about his tone strips away the humanity of his characters and makes people feel comfortable about believing all the stereotypes they'd long held about the city. There are moments in this book when individuals shine in spite of the constraints he's placed upon them. It's just a shame that he couldn't leave himself out of the story long enough to keep up that momentum for more than a page or two.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Oddo

    It's sad how accurate this book is. Charlie LeDuff isn't just from Detroit, he's an insider. His revelations about many of the stories I heard about on the local news are scary and completely believable. My only criticism of the book, if I had to give one, is not LeDuff's failure to recognize the "good parts" about Detroit (really, that's not the focus of the book) but rather the unwritten implication that the "white suburbs" stand quietly by, not suffering from what's happened to Detroit. In re It's sad how accurate this book is. Charlie LeDuff isn't just from Detroit, he's an insider. His revelations about many of the stories I heard about on the local news are scary and completely believable. My only criticism of the book, if I had to give one, is not LeDuff's failure to recognize the "good parts" about Detroit (really, that's not the focus of the book) but rather the unwritten implication that the "white suburbs" stand quietly by, not suffering from what's happened to Detroit. In reality, we're all suffering in the middle class suburbs. I don't know anyone, including me, who isn't somehow tied into the auto-industry. Detroit's tentacles creep through every bit of Michigan, and when the auto-industry collapsed, the suburbs slowly followed. By comparison with Detroit, my own living conditions are luxurious. But only by comparison. I make less money now than when I graduated from college, and I still have a student loan or two lurking. Our house is worth $150k less than when we bought it. Every time we go to dinner at a favorite restaurant, we find it closed. The crime is growing. 10 years ago, ours was a safe neighborhood. Now the bank down the street, our bank, has been held up three times in the last 3 years. We have four foreclosed, empty houses on our street and the banks don't maintain them. In the summer, the grass at the house across the street reaches the windows. We take turns mowing the lawn ourselves. Don't get me wrong, it's paradise compared to the conditions in the wilds of Detroit. It's the American dream for many living below 8 Mile (by the way, I grew up at 8 and Gratiot in East Detroit...now called East Pointe, as if the name change is fooling anyone) but ALL of Michigan is suffering...Detroit is slowly taking over. The "white suburbs" aren't standing by watching...the suburbs are going down with the ship. On this trajectory, pretty soon we'll all be Flint. I hear the Recession is over. I've heard Detroit is bouncing back. I think that's media spin. Honestly, we were the first in the hole and we'll be the last out. I don't see it getting better here yet, just like I don't see Detroit bouncing back simply because they did some restoration for hosting the Superbowl in 2006 (i.e., sweeping the crap under the rug)or because a few streets around the casinos have been resurfaced. I'm glad Charlie didn't try to imply that it is. He's told it like it is. The book is very well-written. I expected nothing less of a Pulitzer prize winner. Detroiters should be proud to call Charlie one of our own. Though he is no longer with the Detroit News, as he was during most of the book, he is a prominent figure as an investigative reporter for Fox2 News. I've given up TV for a year (9 months in)...really looking forward to watching the news again and seeing Charlie keeping it real and sticking it to the dirty politicians in May!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    WHAT AN EYE OPENER THAT READS LIKE A HORROR STORY!Whew! So much corruption at all levels of government, local, State, and even Wayne County? I am shocked! Having grown up in a suburb of Detroit and hearing of some of the corruption and hard times via relatives who still reside there over the past years, it never really struck me of how bad it is/was until I read this book.Of all the horribly sad stories of innocent children dying, homes set on fire for fun, police and fire departments understaff WHAT AN EYE OPENER THAT READS LIKE A HORROR STORY!Whew! So much corruption at all levels of government, local, State, and even Wayne County? I am shocked! Having grown up in a suburb of Detroit and hearing of some of the corruption and hard times via relatives who still reside there over the past years, it never really struck me of how bad it is/was until I read this book.Of all the horribly sad stories of innocent children dying, homes set on fire for fun, police and fire departments understaffed and ill equipped because the politicians and local government ripped off the allotted improvement funds for their own personal gain is appalling, but what is most atrocious of all are the piles of bodies that remain in the morgue because loved ones cannot afford to bury them. I find myself wondering if this really is true. How can this happen in America?I was a teen in 1967 and remember the night of the Detroit riots well as my boyfriend (whom I married there) was driving me home from a date when we were stopped by a police officer who asked why we were out after curfew and was concerned for our safety. We saw no evidence of any trouble in the downriver area where we lived other than the feel of being in a ghost town that evening.The book is powerfully written and keeps you wanting to read more, but I have to say I was never afraid growing up there (except when a tornado literally came down our street) and although we were by no means well off, there was always food on the table, we played outside until dark or after, walked to school, stopped at Carter's for a burger where, yes, they had a soda fountain or shopped in the stores on Fort Street. It was great growing up there.My father worked for Ford Motor Company for 49 years first working on Model T's; then the war came and he made airplanes and tanks. My brother worked there 32 years before he retired to stay home and care for my father who passed away at age 94.I really did not intend to get so wordy, but my one last thought is how much fun we had back in 2006 when my son and I flew in to Detroit to meet up with my brother (who still lives downriver) to attend a couple Tiger baseball games against St. Louis. We never once felt threatened before, during or after the games and had a great time with all the fans sitting around us regardless of race. (As an aside, don't the Tiger's have one of the higher payrolls in baseball?)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Greg Watson

    "The city, what's left of it, burns night after night. Nature--in the form of pheasants, hawks, foxes, coyotes and wild dogs--had stepped in to fill the vacuum, reclaiming a little of the landscape each day...like living in Pompeii, except the people weren't covered in ash. We were alive." In Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charlie LeDuff presents a street-level view of Detroit. The book is less a history of the causes of Detroit's decline than it is an anecdotal look at what the decline means for "The city, what's left of it, burns night after night. Nature--in the form of pheasants, hawks, foxes, coyotes and wild dogs--had stepped in to fill the vacuum, reclaiming a little of the landscape each day...like living in Pompeii, except the people weren't covered in ash. We were alive." In Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charlie LeDuff presents a street-level view of Detroit. The book is less a history of the causes of Detroit's decline than it is an anecdotal look at what the decline means for those still living in the city. It is, as LeDuff describes it, a near-dystopian place. Perhaps as much as any city in the States, Detroit is a victim of de-industrialization. The town was once a place of economic opportunity for both white and black families, relocating from other parts of the country to work in its factories. Once these well-paying blue-collar jobs left, there was little to fill the void. During the boom times, the city's black residents could find work, but blacks were consigned to live in cramped and rat-infested neighborhoods. Detroit experienced severe race violence in 1967. Following this, "whites would begin their rapid exodus to the suburbs, leaving behind their homes and taking their factories and their jobs and their tax dollars with them--to places like Warren." As the tax base deteriorated, so too did the schools, police, and fire departments. With over "62,000 vacant homes," arson is a form of entertainment or insurance scam for absentee owners. Attempts to demolish abandoned properties and eliminate blight become mired in city politics and corruption. LeDuff finds a few glimmers of hope. He finds police and firemen still striving, struggling with worn out or non-existent equipment. Parents are fighting to keep their children safe in a city plagued by random violence. One can only hope for a way out and a brighter future for Detroit and its people.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    I am a native Detroiter who is still loyal to the city, hoping it will again be a place where families can live a decent life in a cultural metropolitan city. I picked up this book, hoping for some answers on what happened to Detroit. After all, an autopsy promises some answers, a beginning to unraveling a mystery of what happened. You won't find any of that in this book. The author lays down some anecdotal stories, which while interesting, weren't very fulfilling. At this point, we all know Detr I am a native Detroiter who is still loyal to the city, hoping it will again be a place where families can live a decent life in a cultural metropolitan city. I picked up this book, hoping for some answers on what happened to Detroit. After all, an autopsy promises some answers, a beginning to unraveling a mystery of what happened. You won't find any of that in this book. The author lays down some anecdotal stories, which while interesting, weren't very fulfilling. At this point, we all know Detroit is rife with corruption, that its politicians have been stealing from the city's citizens, that Detroit's police and fire departments are struggling. I wanted to learn how it got that way, where it started, who started this downward spiral. Most of all I wanted to see some hope that Detroit could come back at least to the place it was when I was growing up. A place you would shop and attend plays and venture out to eat at new restaurants with other families doing the same thing. You'll finish this book thinking Detroit may as well give up, that someone should just come in and raze everything. There's no discourse on Detroit's history, the great neighborhoods, the spirit of the people of Detroit--the things that make the city have value and a reason for being. Why are so many people fond of Detroit if this is all there is? If you're from Detroit, you know these things exist; if you're not, this book will just support the pervasive thinking that Detroit is nothing more than a bombed out war zone. So keep your money--don't buy this book. The author, while his heart is certainly in the right place, went for a superficial collection of sensational stories, tales to tell your friends at the bar, and threw in some personal asides about his family's history (what these had to do with Detroit, I couldn't figure out). This book was somewhat entertaining, but not the story it's title implies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bill Shea

    Charlie is a friend, but I say this regardless of that: I enjoyed this book immensely. I read it in bed at night, and it made me want to stay up and read more. Now, that may be because I know these stories and live in Detroit, and know LeDuff, but I think it's also because it's a good read. It's not stifling academic lecturing. It's down in the gutters. A good look at how a prominent journalist does his work, too. My full review is coming out in an upcoming issue of the Columbia Journalism Revie Charlie is a friend, but I say this regardless of that: I enjoyed this book immensely. I read it in bed at night, and it made me want to stay up and read more. Now, that may be because I know these stories and live in Detroit, and know LeDuff, but I think it's also because it's a good read. It's not stifling academic lecturing. It's down in the gutters. A good look at how a prominent journalist does his work, too. My full review is coming out in an upcoming issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. UPDATE: Link to my review of the book in CJR: http://www.cjr.org/critical_eye/motor...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    This is a well written and well researched book that is nevertheless depressing as hell. It’s about Detroit and what a shithole it is, written by a native Detroiter who came home after years to find it worse than when he left. Journalist Charlie LeDuff’s 2013 novel is about going back to Detroit and describing how this failing American metropolis could be a microcosm of what is wrong with our country as well as the world economy. Painting with a sympathetic but damning brush, LeDuff shows off his This is a well written and well researched book that is nevertheless depressing as hell. It’s about Detroit and what a shithole it is, written by a native Detroiter who came home after years to find it worse than when he left. Journalist Charlie LeDuff’s 2013 novel is about going back to Detroit and describing how this failing American metropolis could be a microcosm of what is wrong with our country as well as the world economy. Painting with a sympathetic but damning brush, LeDuff shows off his city in brutal reality – rampant corruption, staggering debt, and infrastructure that is imploding. LeDuff makes brief mention of the good of the city and spends almost all of his time describing all that is bad. To his credit, and making this book much the better, LeDuff is not just an aloof reporter chronicling a tough city going through a tough time (decades) but his camera is aimed at the portrait – his is an eye that focuses on the individuals and the families that make Detroit what it was, it is and maybe what it can be. What makes this work is that LeDuff is from Detroit and he is talking about his city. In many asides and sub-plots we learn about Charlie and his family and their proximity to and resonance with Detroit adds another element to this tragedy and makes it a far better and more credible book than it would be otherwise. Race. The most pervasive and incendiary aspect of this book, and it seems of Detroit itself, is the issue of race and nowhere is this more evident than in Le Duff himself. In describing his family, we learn that his own family had been a colorful mix of black and white and Native American – finally coalescing into an ancestor taking the ethnic nickname of “Frenchie” and thus getting a coveted “W” on his official papers instead of the earlier labels “N” for negro and “M” for mulatto. Le Duff’s exhaustive and illustrative discussion of this element made me think of Nazi Germany and that regime’s fastidious distinctions about ethnicity and racial purity. What the hell difference does it make? Especially among Americans – are we not the great melting pot? Are not we supposed to be the people that moved beyond race and the color of skin? According to LeDuff, in Detroit at least, race is still what it’s all about. Journalism with a heart and soul, LeDuff has given us a glimpse into this once great city.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    Intrigued by the beginning, but thinking it could really go either way with this one by the time I reach the end... the stories are always interesting, but the journalistic machismo is getting distracting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    This is the kind of book that you get when some guy, who tells a decent story now and again, and who is often the recipient of a pat "you should really write a book about this someday, you know?" finds himself with time on his hands and decides to make a go of this whole book thing. The result doesn't quite hold together. It's part Guy Noir (“The strain was showing on Monica Conyers like a cheap cocktail dress”), part anecdotes about how commonplace corruption and violence is in Detroit, part De This is the kind of book that you get when some guy, who tells a decent story now and again, and who is often the recipient of a pat "you should really write a book about this someday, you know?" finds himself with time on his hands and decides to make a go of this whole book thing. The result doesn't quite hold together. It's part Guy Noir (“The strain was showing on Monica Conyers like a cheap cocktail dress”), part anecdotes about how commonplace corruption and violence is in Detroit, part Detroit 101 (we do the obligatory tourist stops at Cadillac's arrival, the 1805 fire, lumber, Ford, 1967 riots, without LeDuff adding much insight or content), part autobiography... with so much cursing and dialogue that you'd think he was trying his hand at a screenplay for The Wire, Part II: Detroit Edition. Perhaps because he was trying to portray himself as a gritty 1950s black-and-white newspaperman with a trench coat and a cigarette butt dangling out of his mouth, the autobiographical parts really make him sound like an asshole. We get the full dialogue of him getting into a brawl with his wife, being snotty with the cops, getting personalized correspondence from Gov Schwarzenegger (which couldn't have been more name-droppy if he'd tried), getting seduced by corrupt City Council members, being an insider with the good ol' boys down at the precinct and the fire station. Like an old school gangster tale, the storytelling is macho and misogynistic to the extreme. I really don't know what the book was trying to communicate, other than LeDuff is cool, and has street cred, and Detroit is badass, and LeDuff Was Here 2008-2010. It's not an overview of Detroit's recent politics or corruption scandals - it's too anecdotal. LeDuff discusses only the content which he himself wrote up while working locally as a newspaperman, with no broader overview to provide context. So, if you want to learn more about Charles LeDuff, or enjoy the crime noir writing style but prefer non-fiction to detective novels, this is the book for you. If you want to learn about Detroit, go elsewhere.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Walter

    This is a powerful book, so real as to be too much so at points. Author Charlie LeDuff is unflinching in his portrayal of two stories: his own and that of his hometown, Detroit (to which he returns at mid-career). While LeDuff's life story is intriguing, the tale of the Motor City is almost too fantastic to believe ... and it's in this gritty, unflinching and ultimately loving relaying that the book achieves its glory. As the author makes clear, Detroit is a window into and reflection of our coll This is a powerful book, so real as to be too much so at points. Author Charlie LeDuff is unflinching in his portrayal of two stories: his own and that of his hometown, Detroit (to which he returns at mid-career). While LeDuff's life story is intriguing, the tale of the Motor City is almost too fantastic to believe ... and it's in this gritty, unflinching and ultimately loving relaying that the book achieves its glory. As the author makes clear, Detroit is a window into and reflection of our collective soul, an often frightening look at what human nature creates when writ large on a local level with little to no accountability. The SMH-inducing stories are legion, of course, but, to me, even more disappointing and mystifying is the reality that no one seems to be trying to fix it. As LeDuff illustrates in a fascinating vignette in which he follows the money and paper trail with respect to fire department corruption, the work of figuring out what's wrong is challenging but not impossible. The more (if not totally) dismaying part is that, once exposed, no one cares or does anything to correct the problems. It's as if wrong has become the right in this upside down environment and is so 'normal' that it's not worthy of note. Beyond the obvious question of how this could possibly come to be is the more distressing one of why no one is trying to fix it, as well as the consideration of whether this could this happen elsewhere ... because, if so, then all of us - not just those who live "in the 'D'" now or, like me, used to - need to take heed. Technically speaking, the book is a rush, as LeDuff is both a gritty and gifted writer and an insightful and righteous observer. It's a vivid, evocative page-turner. I laughed, I cried, I shook my head both in disgust and in surprise and experienced a full range of emotions as I traversed the sordid and sacred with the author. Not that the book is perfect - it's clear that there are a few editorial revisions and purposely omitted details that lessen its impact at times - but it's exceedingly good in a bad way: it's so transfixing that the reader will feel compelled to keep reading even though much of what is revealed is at best troubling and at worst inhumane. And yet it's in this revelation of the pathos of the true humanity - which, at times, is so lacking that one almost feels compelled to put the word in quotes - that is its primary contribution. It's in the unflinching nature of this investigation of the collective id of a fallen and down but not completely out metropolis that hope is engendered. As the author notes, in covering the horrible and shameful, he invariably comes across good people unsure of how to repair their environment. And it's in service to this silent but still concerned minority that the author contributes meaningfully. Unfortunately, the vast majority are cautionary tales, but they're important reminders that, collectively and individually, we get what we settle for.... And yet I will likely never forget the story of Johnny Redding's tragic life and (especially) end. Nor will I ever quite get over the brazen immorality of secondary players - beyond its former hip hop mayor whose malfeasance was chronicled nationally - like former councilwoman and now convict Monica Conyers whose conduct was as embarrassing as it was criminal, the former police brass who fudged crime statistics to their own benefit or the fire department leaders whose indifference to corruption leads repeatedly to death for their colleagues in the field, etc. So, whether you're a non-fiction fan, a student of current events and/or politics, a Detroit partisan or someone interested in potential glimpses of our collective future - in keeping with the suggestion, early in the book, that Detroit led the country on the way up last century and is now leading again on the way back down in this one - this is a worthy, haunting read. At times, the tales are so outrageous as to seem like fiction ... and yet it's in dealing with the reality that they are distressingly accurate revelations of our human nature that makes them so important to appreciate. In sum, we look away at our peril ... but are greatly enriched if we do not....

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This was a great book that I couldn't put down, as much as you can say a book about a destroyed city is great. What makes it great is the journalist-author Charlie LeDuff, who is from Detroit and has lost several family members to terrible situations there. This makes it different from a detached, paid-to-experience book that most journalists will write, forgotten the minute they are published. This is partly about the city of Detroit, and partly about Charlie's own life and background. The mix This was a great book that I couldn't put down, as much as you can say a book about a destroyed city is great. What makes it great is the journalist-author Charlie LeDuff, who is from Detroit and has lost several family members to terrible situations there. This makes it different from a detached, paid-to-experience book that most journalists will write, forgotten the minute they are published. This is partly about the city of Detroit, and partly about Charlie's own life and background. The mix is great, his writing is great, kind of a combination of old newspaperman and gumshoe detective in tone, with short clipped sentences and metaphors that actually work. In anyone else's hands I'd probably be rolling my eyes, but not here. On Michigan's place in things: "Michigan may geographically be one of America's most northern states, but spiritually, it is one of its most southern." On dealing with complaints that he never writes about the arts: "But [the arts and good people, etc.] are not supposed to be news. These things are supposed to be normal. And when normal things become the news, the abnormal becomes the norm... What galleries and museums have to do with a dead man is beyond me. Writing about shit like that in the city we were living in seemed equal to writing about the surf conditions while reporting in the Gaza Strip." On a dead body just being left abandoned: "The way that members of a society die is a reflection of the way society lives.... So when you walk away from a dead human being, what does that tell you about the state of things?" -Dr. Carl Schmidt, a medical examiner he interviewed for "Frozen in Indifference: Life goes on around body found in vacant warehouse", an article he wrote for the Detroit News in 2009. Here are a few examples of that writing style: "He was smoking like wet wool." "This was like living in Pompeii, except the people weren't covered in ash. We were alive." "I looked up over the grave and surveyed the heaving sobs of my nieces and the strained faces of my brothers.... Somehow, the city of promise had become a scrap yard of dreams...." "I stood under the granite cornices of the fire headquarters where a covey of pigeons was huddled against the rain. I roasted up a Winston and thought about things."

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    I was in Detroit a few months ago doing research at the Ford archives. People were very friendly to me during my entire stay in that down home, I put one pant leg on at a time way that they are in the Midwest. Even wealthy Grosse Pointe types were like this. Someone asked me how often I came to Detroit. "I was last here 34 years ago for my best friend's wedding," I said. "Well, it was a lot better here 34 years ago, that's for sure," he said. "He's damn right," another said who had been eavesdro I was in Detroit a few months ago doing research at the Ford archives. People were very friendly to me during my entire stay in that down home, I put one pant leg on at a time way that they are in the Midwest. Even wealthy Grosse Pointe types were like this. Someone asked me how often I came to Detroit. "I was last here 34 years ago for my best friend's wedding," I said. "Well, it was a lot better here 34 years ago, that's for sure," he said. "He's damn right," another said who had been eavesdropping. Detroit has been through hell since the 2008 stock market collapse. As LeDuff says in his book, it wasn't all that great before, either. LeDuff documents the hell of Detroit, frequently mixing in his personal tragedies and screw ups along the way. This is hard-boiled journalism. The sentences are short and snappy. The mood is one slow burn. I remember living in the Midwest many moons ago and walking by the porch of a songwriter on my way to college. Spring through Fall he'd sit in front of an Underwood on the porch with a fifth of Stoli that he'd drink straight from the bottle. The impression that you get while reading this is that LeDuff must write in much the same way. The chapters move here and there in a fairly chaotic fashion. This isn't the most coherent book you'll find. But there is something about it that is compelling more often than not. Detroit is a quick read and a jolt. LeDuff seems to think that the current state of his hometown is a bellwether for the entire nation. I think he's off base with that idea. Detroit certainly is a mess. So apparently is LeDuff, but somehow he keeps enough of himself together to tell a pretty good story. If you want elegance, this book won't work for you. It's best for fans of Hunter Thompson, Jack Keruoac, and Jimmy Breslin.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    It's OK. Actually, LeDuff is a really good writer, and the pages do fly by, but I couldn't help but feel that on a number of occasions he was so over the top that I thought I was caught in a chapter of Elmore Leonard's City Primeval (a better book, IMHO). Then again, I Googled up images for Detroit, particularly the areas LeDuff writes about, and was shocked at how bad Detroit does look. These areas often look like haunted war zones. If this is the future, we're totally screwed. The book itself It's OK. Actually, LeDuff is a really good writer, and the pages do fly by, but I couldn't help but feel that on a number of occasions he was so over the top that I thought I was caught in a chapter of Elmore Leonard's City Primeval (a better book, IMHO). Then again, I Googled up images for Detroit, particularly the areas LeDuff writes about, and was shocked at how bad Detroit does look. These areas often look like haunted war zones. If this is the future, we're totally screwed. The book itself is a loosely assembled pack of mostly grim Detroit tales, all told in LeDuff's roving, raging gonzo voice. I did enjoy his recurring threads, especially the ones that involved the takedowns of a corrupt public officials. In fairness to LeDuff, my reading of this book suffered from having just finished a large, well written historical tome. As a result, the reading experience for Detroit had me feeling that I had swam back over to the shallow end of the pool.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Sherriff

    I couldn't put this down. Written as a memoir of two years covering Detroit for the Detroit News, Charlie LeDuff writes like the bastard love child of Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson brought up in Motor City. You could criticize this as being a highly partial, biased take on what is going on in Detroit, and that would be true: LeDuff is quick to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad and then proceeds to tell it like it is, from his perspective anyway. And why not? Whose perspe I couldn't put this down. Written as a memoir of two years covering Detroit for the Detroit News, Charlie LeDuff writes like the bastard love child of Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson brought up in Motor City. You could criticize this as being a highly partial, biased take on what is going on in Detroit, and that would be true: LeDuff is quick to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad and then proceeds to tell it like it is, from his perspective anyway. And why not? Whose perspective should we take? From the corrupt city hall? The bumbling auto executives? The psychopathic drug lords? The mealy-mouthed newspaper editors trying to find a marketable middle ground? Hell no, take it from Charlie, just don't call him Mister. Download my starter library for free here - http://eepurl.com/bFkt0X - and receive my monthly newsletter with book recommendations galore for the Japanophile, crime-fiction-lover in all of us.

  15. 4 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    I am somewhere between three and four stars for Detroit: An American Autopsy. First off, I must own a oversupply of northern Midwestern pride, and although I've only visited Detroit a couple of times, I feel like an invisible chain links Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. So if you're picking on Detroit you're kind of like picking on my cousin. However, my cousin is in bad shape, no doubt, and he shoots heroin and has lost too much weight and is kind of an asshole. But he's my cousin. L I am somewhere between three and four stars for Detroit: An American Autopsy. First off, I must own a oversupply of northern Midwestern pride, and although I've only visited Detroit a couple of times, I feel like an invisible chain links Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. So if you're picking on Detroit you're kind of like picking on my cousin. However, my cousin is in bad shape, no doubt, and he shoots heroin and has lost too much weight and is kind of an asshole. But he's my cousin. LeDuff's book is non-fiction more than history and personal narrative more than non-fiction, if you know what I mean (and if you don't, fuck you). He's immediate family to the city, to stretch the aforementioned familial analogy, and the city's downfall breaks his heart and pisses him off. He'll own the middle class's self-destructive tendencies. He doesn't pretend to have one or even a few right answers. He might as well be sitting on his porch, drinking a beer, tasting his grief. The book takes a fascinating turn when he explores whether or not his move back to Detroit is changing his behavior and, when he almost gets busted for domestic assault, he connects his state of mind with that of his hometown. LeDuff's a journalist of the gruff, chain-smoking variety. Detroit reads like a northern Midwestern Wire episode (he even name-checks Omar). The underlying message, probably the most attractive to readers across the country, involves the question as to whether or not Detroit's present is the nation's future. I don't know. I like my cousin, but on her bad days I don't like visiting her house, and I sure as hell don't want her moving in.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ghost of the Library

    I wont start this with a summary of the book or of the history of Detroit - its been done here, by much more talented people than me. Suffice to say that, at any given point - as long as you are a car lover/american history nerd - most of the planet will have heard the name Detroit and shuddered without even really knowing why. The rise and fall of the city has always had a particular appeal to me, its a bit of a rags to riches tale - but in reverse! In this book what the author proposes is to sh I wont start this with a summary of the book or of the history of Detroit - its been done here, by much more talented people than me. Suffice to say that, at any given point - as long as you are a car lover/american history nerd - most of the planet will have heard the name Detroit and shuddered without even really knowing why. The rise and fall of the city has always had a particular appeal to me, its a bit of a rags to riches tale - but in reverse! In this book what the author proposes is to show just how low the city has fallen but at the same time let us see that there are people who still give a dam and wanna keep fighting - it was a bittersweet read this one...so much lost potential... I get the impression that this book was both a pleasure and a pain to write - and somewhere along the way the author ended up perhaps making peace with his own past, while dissecting Detroit and its many many problems. He even ends up making some discoveries about his family while sharing the fascinating origins of the city and much of its history with the reader. This isn't a very elegant book - for lack of a better analogy, he reminds of Anthony Bourdain by the way he writes - clear, raw, in your face, tell it like i see it, don´t care if you´re offended this is what the real world looks like. Yet, colorful language aside, the love for Detroit is here, right along the many good examples of people who believe its still worth it to keep going. If you like history, american history, memoirs, or just plain good old fashioned well written pieces of journalism - this is for you. And it wouldn't hurt if you are also a fan of Jack Kerouac because the chapters can be a fairly chaotic read that takes one back to the master himself. This one would hardly win the prize for most coherent book out there...however it manages to be surprisingly compelling, making you wanna read just one more page - and it was a fairly quick read once i could devote proper time to it. All in all, very interesting, very good read and worth your time! Happy Readings!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Rambling, pointless book by a journalist who became momentarily well-known because of his involvement in a news story about some dead guy in Detroit whose feet were found sticking out of a frozen puddle in an abandoned building. This book is a collection of disconnected vignettes that supposedly illustrate life in Detroit, but they don't add up to much of anything. (A lot of people wander into the book, but none are treated in any depth, and it all seems to be idle stuff dumped out of a reporter Rambling, pointless book by a journalist who became momentarily well-known because of his involvement in a news story about some dead guy in Detroit whose feet were found sticking out of a frozen puddle in an abandoned building. This book is a collection of disconnected vignettes that supposedly illustrate life in Detroit, but they don't add up to much of anything. (A lot of people wander into the book, but none are treated in any depth, and it all seems to be idle stuff dumped out of a reporter's notebooks.) Basically, civic services are crappy, and the down-and-out losers who populate this book have some tangential connection to the author's bad feelings about the deaths of his own low-life sister and her daughter. Oh, and the author finds out that a distant ancestor was a "mulatto", which apparently led to mental disturbance for the leftist author, who can't really avoid talking about race, but because as a typical self-loathing liberal he tries to white-wash (as it were) the personal responsibility of the majority black population of the city for its woes and whenever possible tries to imply that everything somehow is the fault of the older white residents, who abandoned the city in the aftermath of the major rioting back in the '60s. Finally, the book is written in an appalling, pretentious quasi-Raymond Chandler style (the author himself even makes an allusion to Chandler's novels on pp. 182-3) that quickly wears out its welcome. I also found a lot of the Chandler-esque dialogue to be very implausible. I didn't learn much of anything from this book apart from some vague hints at the author's own neuroses.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    Detroit—An almost impossible place. An American place from which Americans cast away their eyes.When the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, countless Germans, especially those living in the camps’ vicinities, were forced to line up, walk through, and bear witness to what they had made possible, actively, passively, or somewhere in between. I believe something similar should be done in Detroit, to see what one of the great American cities has become and how it reveals realities of American li Detroit—An almost impossible place. An American place from which Americans cast away their eyes.When the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, countless Germans, especially those living in the camps’ vicinities, were forced to line up, walk through, and bear witness to what they had made possible, actively, passively, or somewhere in between. I believe something similar should be done in Detroit, to see what one of the great American cities has become and how it reveals realities of American life in the 21st century. Or perhaps there should be a requirement to read and discuss Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff is a Detroiter, a former prize-winning New York Times national journalist who returned to his city to tell its stories, mostly by listening to people like a pleading fireman who’s reached his limit:“Is it ever gonna stop?...Children are dying in this city because they’re too fucking poor to keep warm. Put that in your fucking notebook.” I put it in my fucking notebook.This primal scream of a book, combining memoir, journalism and history, weaves the voices and emotions his fucking notebook compiles into a narrative that every American should be required to face. To anyone traveling through the various neighborhoods of Detroit, this is the American exceptionalism many Americans don’t want anyone to know about. The first and most important fact about Detroit to grasp the significance of its population. Between 1890-1910, the city more than doubled in size to 465,766. In the next decade, during the period of exponential growth of the automobile industry, it doubled again to become the fourth largest city in the U.S. and reached its peak in 1950 at 1.85 million while dropping behind Los Angeles to fifth place. Proud Detroiters like to point out the many contributions the city has made to American prosperity, prestige, culture, and innovation. Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he and his workers figured out how to revolutionize manufacturing. Detroit had the nation’s first paved highway, gave birth to the credit industry to sell cars, and was a prime destination for the diaspora of Southern blacks in search of financial and physical security. Its people built the equipment that that won WWII and laid the foundation for the nation's post-war economic boom. But it all came to the halt and the steady decline began in the late 1950s, when the illusion of growth and prosperity hid growing problems. Beginning with suburbanization in the 1950s, through the race riots of 1967, the long decline of the American automobile industry from the 1970s through the 2008 financial meltdown, Detroit’s population declined steadily, sometimes in sudden bursts, through today, when it is estimated to have a population of less than 659,000, the 27th largest city. That’s almost a loss of 1.2 million over six-plus decades. Think of the spaces that leaves behind, not just homes, but factories, schools, businesses, fire and police departments, streets, parks and the depleted infrastructure left behind. Imagine how your city or town might look after decades of losing almost two-thirds of your population and those that remain behind are older, younger, and poorer. According to LeDuff, “Detroit, by some estimates, is 40 percent vacant.” How it became vacant is what this book is about. LeDuff tells it by the people left behind, some have given up, others haven’t. The verdict’s still out on who’s right. The movement of blacks to Detroit in the 20th century created an oddity, “Michigan may geographically be one of America’s most northern states, it is one of its most southern.” The transition became complete when the Detroit auto manufacturers went to Washington, DC in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown. Expecting good treatment and a generous bailout, the CEOs failed to understand, as one of the political operatives of the city long did, why they didn't.“Shiiiiit,” Mongo cackled. “They went up to Washington thinking they were executives of the Big Three. Turns out they were nothing but Detroit. They don’t realize that Detroit is a code word for nigger and they ain’t nothing but niggers anymore. Incompetence ain’t exclusive to the black folks in this country.” Mongo was right. Incompetence wasn’t a black Detroit invention: Wall Street had taken the world’s financial structure to the edge. The White House had us involved in two wars of incompetence paid for with a credit card. The Big Three couldn’t keep their books straight. California was drowning in $150 billion of debt. Timothy Geithner, soon to be new treasury secretary, didn’t pay his taxes. There was not one Detroit Democrat involved in any of that.True. Yet that doesn’t stop LeDuff from honestly discussing the political sleaze and some of the profiteers who hold the city back and give credence to many of the corruption charges. If you’ve read this far, take a little time to Google “Detroit decay” and peruse some of the photos, websites and videos devoted to collecting them. There’s even, as perverse as it is when one thinks about it, a minor industry of photographers who create works of art depicting the utter destruction of parts of the city. LeDuff’s personal investment in the city is deepened by the stories of his family who are victims in their own ways. His brother, who had a well-paying job with a locally based insurance giant, is reduced to utter poverty and despair when the consequences of a lost job happen. A niece is a drug addict with a predictable fate. He never lets the reader forget this is personal. For me that made the book better, but I could see how some might not think so. The book begins with a story about LeDuff viewing a body, an anonymous homeless person, encased in four feet of ice at the bottom of an elevator shaft in one of the countless abandoned buildings in Detroit. “At the end of the day,” he concludes, “the Detroiter may be the most important American there is because no one knows better than he that we’re all standing at the end of the shaft.” A Detroiter can tell us more about the reality of America than crowing about a rising stock market or our military might ever will. And there’s hope in there somewhere. During the summer of 2018, I worked on a project in Detroit, driving and walking through neighborhoods where I kept having to remind myself, “This is the United States!” Once a local resident laughingly called out to me from his porch as I was going back to my car, “We don’t see many white folks around here. Even the police are scared to come here!” Because of my experiences, I have developed a genuine love, compassion for, and interest in the city. I guess that’s oddly something I feel I have in common with LeDuff despite the tragedy, cynicism, and seeming hopelessness he describes.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    Bought this on the strength of a Fresh Air interview with the author and read it in one day. [[[Aside: I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, about 50 miles south of Detroit. I was always vaguely terrified of the city, probably because several people told me that the city tends to explode into race riots from time to time. My wife and I spent a really fun (and race riot-free) weekend there two years ago doing some typical touristy things (visiting Motown, DIA, a jazz club, etc.), and I highly recommend visit Bought this on the strength of a Fresh Air interview with the author and read it in one day. [[[Aside: I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, about 50 miles south of Detroit. I was always vaguely terrified of the city, probably because several people told me that the city tends to explode into race riots from time to time. My wife and I spent a really fun (and race riot-free) weekend there two years ago doing some typical touristy things (visiting Motown, DIA, a jazz club, etc.), and I highly recommend visiting the city.]]] Let's get this out of the way: Technically, anyone who moves from the Midwest to either coast and then back again is a loser. Moving from one coast to the other is regarded as a neutral move. And moving from either coast to a Northwest or Rocky Mountain state can be either neutral or aspirational, depending on how it is positioned. Exceptions are sometimes granted for graduate school or dying parents, though going from laid off to graduate school, regardless of location, automatically confers loser status. So Mr. LeDuff is a loser because he grew up outside Detroit, had a schmancy New York Times job writing about odd ball characters, and then returned to the Detroit area mid-career. His series actually won several awards, but the chinless bastards of the New York Times referred to his subjects as "losers," and not in a nice way. As a result Mr. LeDuff's heart was no longer into his job, and he moved back to Detroit. And I'm really glad that he did because as a result I got to read this book. Detroit is a target-rich environment for an enterprising journalist who cares more about the truth than his reputation, and Mr. LeDuff makes the most of it. Check out his videos on YouTube for a quick sense of his goofy sensibility. The vibe is sort of an HL Mencken meets Michael Moore with a little Rivethead mental illness on top like paprika. Mixed in with the appalling chicanery of Detroit politics are highly personal stories of his family and how they have coped with the decline of Detroit. (Spoiler: not always so well.) One brother goes from hawking subprime mortgages for Quicken Loans to working in a screw factory (where screws from China are repackaged so that they can labeled "Made In America"). The graffiti in the bathroom of the screw factory points to the root cause of America's decline -- and bear in mind that Detroit's decline is just a more media friendly version of America's overall decline -- "F**K HARD WORKERS." This book documents very well the mendacious poltroons (to borrow just two of Mencken's favorite words) that have been running Detroit. It's as if the city's corrupt political machine either didn't get the memo that there is no money left in the city or was to lazy to bother changing their tactics. I'll bet this is going on in most other cities in the Midwest, especially Chicago, but they aren't quite as bad off as Detroit so it's not as obvious. Especially heartbreaking is the insufficient budget of the local fire department compared with the money that supposedly went to them but was instead diverted into no-bid contracts to friends and family of those in power. You know where it is heading, but you don't want to believe it. Now that an emergency manager has been appointed by the governor to take care of the city (and potentially override the political will of its citizens), I would very much like to read a sequel or at least a few jottings of his impressions of what goes down next.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Examining the ruins of Detriot is a fashionable pastime these days. I admit, I am interested in the empty, rotting factories and found the documentary "Detropia" fascinating. And I'm a little bit obsessed with Henry Ford at the moment. What a dick! Detroit: An American Autopsy is extremely thought provoking, although the title was misleading. I thought an autopsy would be a systematic, detailed examination of what went wrong and where the city is now. Instead, it is a series of... well...anecdote Examining the ruins of Detriot is a fashionable pastime these days. I admit, I am interested in the empty, rotting factories and found the documentary "Detropia" fascinating. And I'm a little bit obsessed with Henry Ford at the moment. What a dick! Detroit: An American Autopsy is extremely thought provoking, although the title was misleading. I thought an autopsy would be a systematic, detailed examination of what went wrong and where the city is now. Instead, it is a series of... well...anecdotes is too light a word. The stories in this book are powerful and sad. LeDuff examines his own history in Detroit as well as the city itself. It touches on the problematic milestones in recent and remote history as a backdrop of people's experiences living in a town riddled with abject poverty, corruption, apathy and greed. For me, his writing style is too hardened and he paints with too broad of strokes. But these stories are fascinating and I could have kept on reading if the book was four times longer. As a writer for the Detroit News, LeDuff published a story about a man whose body was found frozen in ice in the bottom of an abandoned elevator shaft. He received some backlash from the community after the article was published. "The small, white "art community" in Detroit complained that I was focusing on the negative in a city with so much good. What about all the galleries and museums and music? they complained in a flurry of emails-and blogs. What about the good things? It was a fair point. there are plenty of good people in Detroit. Tens of thousands of them.....community elders trying to make things better, teachers who spend their own money on the classroom, people who mow lawns out of respect for the dead neighbor, parents who raise their children, ministers who help with funeral expenses. But these things are not supposed to be news. These things are supposed to be normal. And when normal things become the news, the abnormal becomes the norm. And when that happens, you might as well put a fork in it." I recommend this book but I give it 3 stars because I feel that his world-weary voice and experiences at times overpowered the stories of the people of which he writes.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    I think that Charlie LeDuff is a journalistic Raymond Chandler, a 21st century Hunter S. Thompson. He's a working class stiff who tells it like it is, without all that intellectual bullshit that passes for writing these days. He got tired of winning Pulitzer Prizes and working for the Gray Lady in the cittay and decided to get on back to his roots in Detroit, where his honest, hardscrabble family still lives. This book, then, is an attempt to get at the heart of what ails Detroit, the heart of A I think that Charlie LeDuff is a journalistic Raymond Chandler, a 21st century Hunter S. Thompson. He's a working class stiff who tells it like it is, without all that intellectual bullshit that passes for writing these days. He got tired of winning Pulitzer Prizes and working for the Gray Lady in the cittay and decided to get on back to his roots in Detroit, where his honest, hardscrabble family still lives. This book, then, is an attempt to get at the heart of what ails Detroit, the heart of America, the hearts of all Americans, all the average Joes out there who clock in and clock out, who put in an honest days' work for a less-than-honest days' pay but don't have the power or the free time to bitch about it. It's about... OK, fuck it. I can't go on. LeDuff is an assclown. His writing style is - essentially - to slather one tough-guy cliche on top of another, until the reader is too overwhelmed to notice that LeDuff has NOTHING NEW, PERTINENT OR SUBSTANTIAL TO SAY. Like anyone who tries to write anything, he reveals more about himself than he realizes... But in his case, what he reveals is his posturing, his posing, his fundamental dishonesty and lack of insight. If he were a high school kid, I might pat him on the back and encourage him to take another crack at it - but first, to think about what he wants to say. To maybe, I dunno, jot down some notes about the important points he'd like to make. And perhaps to visit a library. Or maybe arrange an interview with someone who knows something about, I dunno, economics... Or business... God, anything, really. But he's not a high school kid, and as far as I can see he has done nothing to deserve me giving him the benefit of the doubt about anything. He has published an over-praised, sloppily slapped together amalgam of disjointed vignettes. If there is a common thread, it is not Detroit or its downfall but rather Mr. LeDuff, presenting himself in each tableau like Philip Marlowe, jaded gumshoe, with sleazy thugs and slutty molls attempting to corrupt him... I fucking hated this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Hicks

    First things first – I was lucky (and honored) enough to win an advanced reading copy through a Goodreads Giveaway. I’ve enjoyed LeDuff’s work on Fox 2 Detroit and had been wanting to read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” since I first heard of its planned publication in a three-part profile on LeDuff that ran on Deadline Detroit. LeDuff’s on-camera work is polarizing – he’s eccentric, bombastic, assured, confrontational, and sarcastic. He’s a Detroit newsman through and through, but an on-air pers First things first – I was lucky (and honored) enough to win an advanced reading copy through a Goodreads Giveaway. I’ve enjoyed LeDuff’s work on Fox 2 Detroit and had been wanting to read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” since I first heard of its planned publication in a three-part profile on LeDuff that ran on Deadline Detroit. LeDuff’s on-camera work is polarizing – he’s eccentric, bombastic, assured, confrontational, and sarcastic. He’s a Detroit newsman through and through, but an on-air personality of an entirely different breed than Bill Bonds or Steve Wilson, previous crusaders and champions for a dying city rotted through with corruption. His video segments occasionally strike an almost indie-documentarian chord, infused with ribald, neo-noir sensibilities that are sometimes shot on black-and-white film, and tonal shifts that somehow find balance between outrage and moments of absurdity. His news reports are liberally peppered with opinion and wry humor. He’s interviewed dead men live on air, calls Mayor Dave Bing ‘Do Nothing Dave,’ and takes golf outings through the cavernous ruins of a dilapidated city. Say what you will about the man or his on-air persona, he is a natural, gifted story-teller. His book, “Detroit: An American Autopsy,” takes a similar sensibility to print and presents the gritty truth of a dying city that its inhabitants and its politicians have spent decades denying. As a novel, it’d fit nicely next to George Pelecanos; if they ever filmed it, it could be the next version of HBO’s “The Wire.” For all the city’s problems, though, LeDuff sees Detroit as a microcosm of larger problems and bigger issues across America. You can laugh at Detroit, he writes, but you’re only laughing at yourself. The city is bankrupt and broken, with whatever is left being scavenged for by looters and destroyers that fancy themselves politicians or millionaires, if not outright thieves and arsonists. The problems of America, like the wealthy fat cat brokers on Wall Street working daily to destroy the middle class in order to line their pockets with more cash, aren’t much different than the problematic people of Detroit. It’s a city that’s been broken and left for dead both by the entirety of its surrounding nation and its own city folk. He writes about the horrors faced everyday by the Detroit Fire Department, the arsons that flare up around the city because setting fire to some abandoned building is cheaper than going to the movies. A movie theater ticket costs $8, a gallon of gasoline $4, he writes. The emergency responders have broken equipment, which costs one firefighter his life, and busted uniforms that are as much of a fire hazard as the decrepit blazing buildings they work to extinguish. They work in a city so poor that government official stripped the firehouses of their brass poles and sold them to drum up some cash. He writes about mismanagement of city funds and the scandal surrounding Kwame Kilpatrick, the hip-hop mayor. LeDuff calls the Hip-Hop Mayor a pussy, and he’s not wrong. He writes about the discovery of a homeless man found frozen and buried in ice in the basement of an abandoned warehouse. Surrounding it all is the air of deniability, the refusal of officials to see there’s a problem and who retaliate against any city worker that dare speak out. The autopsy reveals the horrors and heartbreak of a city that’s fallen over the edge, and may be beyond redemption. At times, LeDuff’s words give the city a post-apocalyptic feel, and, again, he’s not wrong. He writes of long stretches of the city that have been completely abandoned, with wilderness returning to reclaim the land, and neighborhoods where houses are vacant or occupied in checkerboard fashion, some nice, others ruined, like a meth addicts mouth. Although it’s non-fiction, the events that occur in Detroit on a daily basis are, at times, unreal. The inanity of ex-council woman Monica Conyers, the never-ending corruption and cronyism of the Kilpatrick administration, the blatant theft committed by city officials, the numbers games the police department play in order to lower the city’s murder rate by trying to reclassify homicides to suicides or playing word games over what, exactly a murder is. If two brothers get into a fight, and one stabs the other to death, what is that? LeDuff calls it murder; DPD calls it self-defense, and into the record books it goes. With the economy in the tank, and unemployment rampant thanks to the failing auto industry, the only thing Detroit produces anymore is misery. Sad as that is, it’s a good business for journalists and readers. “Detroit: An American Autopsy” is a compelling read, both heartbreaking and entertaining in equal measure. As he does on a regular basis for Fox 2 Detroit, LeDuff balances the horror and the humor, underlying it all with the strength of human spirit that defies the daily struggle of life in the D.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Detroit: An American Autopsy is a combination of gritty reportage and personal memories punctuated with a vein of dark humor that tells the author's story of his attempt to understand what has happened to his city. Detroit is where Charlie LeDuff grew up and after some time away, where he lives now. The book is an uncompromising account of a city that was once the richest in America and the forces, both external and internal, which have led Detroit down a steep path of decline. At the same time, Detroit: An American Autopsy is a combination of gritty reportage and personal memories punctuated with a vein of dark humor that tells the author's story of his attempt to understand what has happened to his city. Detroit is where Charlie LeDuff grew up and after some time away, where he lives now. The book is an uncompromising account of a city that was once the richest in America and the forces, both external and internal, which have led Detroit down a steep path of decline. At the same time, it's also the story of some very resilient people who continue to work and live there despite the challenges they come up against each and every day. LeDuff opens his prologue with the discovery of a dead man nicknamed Johnnie Dollar found in an abandoned building "encased in at least four feet of ice at the bottom of a defunct elevator shaft..." All that could be seen of him were his feet, covered in white socks and black gym shoes. LeDuff notes that anywhere else, this sight would have been tragic, "mind blowing," but not in Detroit -- and he wonders what has happened while he was gone. He sizes up the situation noting that "...you come across something like a man frozen in ice and the skeleton of the anatomy of the place reveals it to you. The neck bone is connected to the billionaire who owns the crumbling building where the man died. The rib bones are connected to the countless minions shuffling through the frostbitten streets burning fires in empty warehouses to stay warm -- and get high. The hip bone is connected to a demoralized police force who couldn't give a shit about digging a dead mope out of an elevator shaft. The thigh bone is connected to the white suburbanites who turn their heads away from the calamity of Detroit, carrying on as though the human suffering were somebody else's problem. And the foot bones -- well, they're sticking out of a block of dirty frozen water, belonging to an unknown man nobody seemed to give a rip about." And, as he notes, "we're all standing at the edge of that shaft." LeDuff is a very hands-on, no-fear, outspoken investigative reporter who cares. For example, while tackling the question of what's happened to his city, he embeds himself with a local fire squad struggling to keep up with multiple fires with bad or broken equipment (down to holes in their boots); in one case he discovered that a firefighter's death when a house collapsed was due in part to equipment failure. He also tackles the corruption of the city by following the money and paper trail of misallocated funds and discovers outright theft and an appalling lack of accountability. Worse, when he prints his findings, nobody cares -- there are no investigations, nothing. But imho, the best writing in this book comes from his accounts of the people living in the city: good people who learn to endure, as they are often stuck where they are, unable to leave; others are too poor to afford heat for their families; there are victims of violence whose families can't afford to bury them; he reveals unresponsive ambulance and police services; and his story of a one year-old baby playing in the detritus of an abandoned house just about did me in. These stories are not only sad, but alarming and downright shameful. Including his own family's experiences in the city adds a very personal feel that is also just plain gut wrenching at times. I loved this book -- I love LeDuff's crazy personality and most of all I like his dogged determination in getting to the root of the problems facing his city. A lot of people talk the talk -- this man walks the walk and reports what he sees in an unflinching manner. At the same time, parts of this very serious book made me laugh out loud. He's definitely got the knack of being serious and entertaining at the same time as he examines why people in many cases don't even have access to the basic services a city should provide. Unlike many reviewers, I don't live in Detroit, nor do I have a connection to it unless you want to count our American-made cars. I chose to read this book for the human story which LeDuff tells and tells well, becoming interested in it some time back when I had read a brief excerpt where LeDuff mentions schoolkids in the city having to supply their own toilet paper, which stuck a chord. A couple of years back I had read a local story about the items people were being asked to supply for their children's school year and I was frankly appalled. Well beyond the crayons, pencils, and the other supplies one might consider normal, also on the list were paper plates, plastic silverware,and toilet paper, and that was right here in the state where I live. I remember telling a friend about this and asking where is all the money going that is allocated for schools? Somehow, things have just gone appallingly wrong. LeDuff is right -- this kind of thing is happening all over. He is a guy worth listening to.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Trey

    A revealing look into the corruption and despondency of a once great city. It frightens me that this could be a precursor of a crippling trend in our country. Great narration by Eric Martin.

  25. 4 out of 5

    judy

    I have rarely, if ever, read a book so gut wrenching on a personal level. Like many residents or former residents of beautiful Michigan, contacts with Detroit, its people and its problems, run in the background of my life. I must have arrived from the East at just the right moment or perhaps just the moment. The author dates the start of Detroit's demise to some 40 years back. I can't say it was sudden but it certainly was obvious that the downhill slide had begun. Cobo Hall, in its first incarn I have rarely, if ever, read a book so gut wrenching on a personal level. Like many residents or former residents of beautiful Michigan, contacts with Detroit, its people and its problems, run in the background of my life. I must have arrived from the East at just the right moment or perhaps just the moment. The author dates the start of Detroit's demise to some 40 years back. I can't say it was sudden but it certainly was obvious that the downhill slide had begun. Cobo Hall, in its first incarnation, was still the biggest show in town. Great place for state-wide political conventions (and the Auto Show)but you were warned to take care going to and from your hotel or a restaurant to the Hall. Detroit was that kind of place. Coleman Young was still a charming force of nature in the Legislature but soon he would become the first Black mayor of a major American city and start the first of his five terms. Fast forward a few decades and the trouble is obvious. The massive school system, the third largest in the nation, is struggling to keep kids in school and turn out educated students. How is it possible with a corps of elegant, dignified, intelligent and dedicated Ph.D administrators, the products of many city schools could fail so miserably? The picture of the largely vacant, broken down city painted by the author is almost too much to take. It's easier when he focuses on his own life and the people he meets. Sure, it's gangs, corruption, children dying from shots gone astray but you can get that in Chicago and other large cites, not to mention every night on cable. What is different about Detroit is the wholesale abandonment of neighborhoods, factories and shops. Detroit is tough but how do you come back from that? The author doesn't have answers, no one does, but he does have a riveting story told with humor, pathos, unflinching detail. If you didn't know he was a reporter and his stories are real, you would congratulate yourself on picking such such a fascinating, entertaining, hard core read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hartzer

    Some people don't like Charlie LeDuff. I don't have any personal knowledge one way or the other, but I do know that he tried to make a difference, and for me, that counts for something. His name was Johnnie Redding, and his body was found completely encased in ice with just his feet and ankles sticking out "like popsicle sticks". I had not heard of this story, so I actually Googled the story and Jesus, the photo is right there on the internet. He was found in an abandoned, rotting warehouse owne Some people don't like Charlie LeDuff. I don't have any personal knowledge one way or the other, but I do know that he tried to make a difference, and for me, that counts for something. His name was Johnnie Redding, and his body was found completely encased in ice with just his feet and ankles sticking out "like popsicle sticks". I had not heard of this story, so I actually Googled the story and Jesus, the photo is right there on the internet. He was found in an abandoned, rotting warehouse owned by the billionaire, Matty Moroun. After the body was found, Moroun gave away 4,000 ski masks as a public relations gesture. LeDuff: "I later asked Moroun why he didn't just tear the old book respository down. A gesture like that would do more to soften his image in the newspapers as Detroit's billionaire slumlord than distributing a trailerful of hats. To which he replied: 'I'm in the catbird seat here.' Moroun was so rich and the town so broken, no one was going to make him fix shit as long as he had money for lawyers. And he knew it." But LeDuff doesn't just point his finger at the billionaires here. There is plenty of blame to go around for Detroit's troubles, and he names names. I liked that. This book demonstrates what journalism should be instead of what it has become.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Topnotch reporting told from the personal view of a journalist who left town for the Big Apple and then returned to the D with his new family. LeDuff peels the veneer to reveal the schizophrenic core of the city: you love her and hate what's happening at the same time, and LeDuff's book is funny and excruciating both as well. Detroit grew up on the car business of the last midcentury, and then aged in the post-industrial world of financial decline. Is it all about the money? No, it's about the m Topnotch reporting told from the personal view of a journalist who left town for the Big Apple and then returned to the D with his new family. LeDuff peels the veneer to reveal the schizophrenic core of the city: you love her and hate what's happening at the same time, and LeDuff's book is funny and excruciating both as well. Detroit grew up on the car business of the last midcentury, and then aged in the post-industrial world of financial decline. Is it all about the money? No, it's about the money leaving town, and the poorer people staying. Firefighters who have to take a bus to a fire scene because there aren't enough vehicles to get the aging and frail equipment to the fire. A mother with her two sons' ashes bookmarking the mantel of the fireplace. A morgue stacked with unclaimed bodies because family can't afford to bury their loved ones. And the crooks and liars that have plagued Detroit for decades, skimming from the top of human misery. Wall Street is an abject concept of greed and hubris, but Detroit is heartfelt, for those who live on her unplowed, unlit streets. May the gods of commerce bless the tenacious humans who stay to pull the old grand dame back from the river's churning water, LeDuff among these everyday heroes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Diem

    First book of 2014 and that was a great way to kick off the new year. I hate reading reviews of books before I read the book but it can be a necessary evil. In the reviews for this book I gleaned some of the criticism of LeDuff's writing and in the end a lot of turned out to be accurate. But, what some saw as negative aspects of his writing I found to be endearing. Mind you that I heard the book through the filter of someone else's reading. The reader gave LeDuff a gruff, wizened tone that at ti First book of 2014 and that was a great way to kick off the new year. I hate reading reviews of books before I read the book but it can be a necessary evil. In the reviews for this book I gleaned some of the criticism of LeDuff's writing and in the end a lot of turned out to be accurate. But, what some saw as negative aspects of his writing I found to be endearing. Mind you that I heard the book through the filter of someone else's reading. The reader gave LeDuff a gruff, wizened tone that at times sounded like the voice over for an old-timey detective show. "It was August. You could have fried an egg on the sidewalk if the sidewalk hadn't already melted. She blew into my office like an Arctic blast. She was an icy blonde and stacked like an igloo. I was frozen." And, sometimes his writing kind of goes to that place too. Silly or hackneyed metaphors strung together like lights on a Christmas tree. Sorry. I guess we all do that. But for all that, LeDuff's writing betrays an education as bookish as it is streetwise and sardonic. LeDuff has his own patois. Let's leave it at that. But, ignoring these minor digressions, which is easy to do because you get lost in the stories of Detroit, you find a book that throbs with the rawness of an open wound. LeDuff is criticized for frequently losing the narrative thread of his book but I'm not sure that's fair. It isn't an essay. It is a scattershot of vignettes and memories and opinions from someone who knows where some of the bodies are buried. From someone who has skin in the game because he grew up here. Moved away. And then came back. Interwoven into the stories of corruption, crime, crack and decay is the story of LeDuff's own family's struggles to keep their heads above water in the blue collar suburbs on the fringes of the city. He's been taken to task for this self-centered patter and that critique makes no sense to me. Because it becomes quickly apparent that his personal losses to the lure of drugs, danger and easy money give him the ability to feel compassion for people that appear to most of us to be immoral and unworthy of our pity as they are the architects of their own destruction. But he sees in them his sister, his niece, his mother. He understands how good people can make bad choices. How bad choices can feel like the only choices if you grow up in a toxin rich environment. That LeDuff comes from the place he's from and ended up at the University of Michigan and then the New York Times is impressive. I went to school with dozens of Charlie LeDuffs and most of them never went anywhere and are probably there still. I was advised to watch some clips of LeDuff's work for the Fox News affiliate in Detroit and found him to be a slightly manic and wiry terrier of a guy whose delivery borders on unhinged. And, really, you'd have to be a person that scrappy and energetic to do what he's done. So, good for him. And good for him on his ode to Detroit. I'm not sure I'm convinced that some liberties weren't taken with some personal events for the sake of poetry but I never once doubted that his passion for the people and the place were thoroughly authentic. I never doubted that his despair was honest. And I fully believe in the sincerity of his dedication to either restoring Detroit to its rightful place among the league of Important American Cities or giving it a proper burial and not letting it just smolder and burn itself out leaving nothing but a forgotten heap of ash and a handful of stories. Edited to add: If you are from the Detroit area the reader's pronunciation of place names will make you crazy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alexander

    This is a furious book, a snarling love song to a suffering people. This is not one of those "please say nice things about Detroit" screeds. LeDuff focuses on horror, mayhem, dysfunction, corruption, and despair. Victories are rare and small, scored in the face of general decline. Which is not to say _Detroit: An American Autopsy_ is not a pleasure to read. The prose is elegant, stripped down in a hurry, and focused on economically outlining key details. Characters appear vividly, either as one-ti This is a furious book, a snarling love song to a suffering people. This is not one of those "please say nice things about Detroit" screeds. LeDuff focuses on horror, mayhem, dysfunction, corruption, and despair. Victories are rare and small, scored in the face of general decline. Which is not to say _Detroit: An American Autopsy_ is not a pleasure to read. The prose is elegant, stripped down in a hurry, and focused on economically outlining key details. Characters appear vividly, either as one-timers in very short stories or as returning presences in larger narrative arcs. LeDuff makes himself a character throughout the book, very much in the Hunter Thompson New Journalism mode. He's successful yet flailing professionally, loving but self-destructive, proud and self-abnegating. His immediate family appears, partly for biographical effect, partly as characters in Detroit's collapse. His ancestry makes a surprising addition towards the end of the book, as LeDuff discovers surprising elements in his family tree... but it's a bit too much, ultimately. I found myself wanting the narrator out of the way, to be less of a character and more of a lens. So what parts of Detroit pass through these frantic pages? The fiascos of city government, from the Kilpatrick regime to corrupt departmental administration. Firefighters hurling themselves heroically in what seems a doomed cause. Bars. Slums. City streets, often empty. Home abandoned or grimly defended by poor folk. Killers, lawyers, judges, cops, victims. Yes, it's largely focused on different flavors of crime. Yes, it makes a nice companion to _The Wire_. Strongly recommended.

  30. 5 out of 5

    John Devlin

    (2.8)A little too much filler from his life and the meanderings of his sojourn through the rusted out hulk that was Detroit. People should read this and know that this is the paradigm of what happens when Progressive politics and years of race-baiting victimization crash headlong into government entitlements married to a 21st century that has steamrolled manufacturing. The government isn't corrupt b/c that implies there's something clean and pure that can be found if the rust is chipped away. In f (2.8)A little too much filler from his life and the meanderings of his sojourn through the rusted out hulk that was Detroit. People should read this and know that this is the paradigm of what happens when Progressive politics and years of race-baiting victimization crash headlong into government entitlements married to a 21st century that has steamrolled manufacturing. The government isn't corrupt b/c that implies there's something clean and pure that can be found if the rust is chipped away. In fact, like a stepford wife or a doppleganger, the gov't has been replaced by careerists who worry only about their next pay check. There is no thought of the public weal. Only the concern for keeping their union jobs secured. LeDuff laments the failures of gov't to keep people safe, clean, and employed not realizing that gov't reliance is where the problem began. Once local communities worked through private charities and religious organization, but by the 60's the gov't largely took over those functions. Now it wasn't a person who was willing to spend his time to help. It was some gov't bureaucrat's responsibility, and when something becomes everyone's responsibility it becomes no one's responsibility. Is Detroit the bellwether of America in the 21st century? I'm afraid it is.

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