When we think of Detroit, we think first of the auto industry and its slow, painful decline, then maybe the sounds of Motown, or the long line of professional sports successes. But economies are made up of people, and the effect of the economic downfall of Detroit is one of the most compelling stories in America.
Detroit: A Biography by journalist and author Scott Martelle is about a city that rose because of the most American of traits - innovation, entrepreneurship, and an inspiring perseverance. It’s about the object lessons learned from the city’s collapse, and, most prosaically, it’s about what happens when a nation turns its back on its own citizens.
The story of Detroit encompasses compelling human dimensions, from the hope it once posed for blacks fleeing slavery in the early 1800s and then rural Southern poverty in the 1920s, to the American Dream it represented for waves of European immigrants eager to work in factories bearing the names Ford, Chrysler, and Chevrolet. Martelle clearly encapsulates an entire city, past and present, through the lives of generations of individual citizens. The tragic story truly is a biography, for the city is nothing without its people.
Scott Martelle is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer and author of three books of nonfiction. He has covered three presidential campaigns as well as postwar reporting from Kosovo. He is the cofounder of the Journalism Shop, a book critic, and an active blogger. He lives with his wife and children in California.
©2012 Scott Martelle (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
“Former Detroit News reporter Martelle vividly recounts the rise and downfall of a once-great city…An informative albeit depressing glimpse of the workings of a once-great city that is now a shell of its former self.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Blood Passion is the definitive account of a major landmark in the American struggle for social justice. And the way Scott Martelle tells the story is splendid proof that history can both be written as vividly as a novel and also be documented with scrupulous care.” (Adam Hochschild, New York Times best-selling author on Blood Passion)
“Martelle’s excellent book captures [the Ludlow Massacre] with a journalist’s flair for narrative and a historian’s penchant for making the necessary inferences where they belong: on the page for all to see.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
mostly nonfiction listener
What would Detroit look like today if the University of Michigan had not moved from the city (after the university's founding in 1817) to Ann Arbor in 1837? Imagine what U of M's $8 billion endowment and 40,000 students would mean to the city today?
Would having a flagship research university in Detroit have allowed the city to follow a path closer to that of Pittsburgh, another formerly one industry town (steel instead of autos) that re-invented itself to a center of ED'S, MED'S, and FINANCE?
These and other questions are pondered in Scott Martelle's wonderful new book, Detroit: A Biography.
We keep reading about how it is cities that drive our economy by spurring innovation. Matt Ridely, in The Rational Optimist, talks about cities as places where "ideas go to have sex." Readers of Ed Glaeser's Triumph of the City know that the world's future is an urban future, and that more people will move to cities in the 21st century than at any time in the history of the world.
The sub-title of Glaeser's book is "How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier." How then to explain Detroit?
Martelle, a long time Detroit resident and reporter (he currently lives in California) sets out to explain how Detroit went from one of our wealthier cities (with amongst the highest median incomes and highest rates of home ownership in the 1950s) to a place over one-third of residents live below the poverty line. What caused the greatest urban population crash in modern memory, with the number of Detroit city residents dropping from 1.85 million in 1950 to just over 700,000 today?
What can we learn from the story of Detroit? And is there a future for the Motor City? Martelle is stronger on the former question than the latter. He is articulate about the decisions the people of Detroit should have made to build on the city's industrial foundations. He is less certain about what Detroit can do now to turn things around.
Martelle ascribes the reasons for Detroit's fall primarily to the short-sighted and greedy decision making of the cities former elites. Rather than invest in industries outside of automobiles, politicians and corporate executives continuously doubled-down on cars. There is no Ford or G.M. University in Detroit. No Chrysler College. The failure to diversify is a lesson that other single industry towns should learn well.
Detroit: A Biography is an important addition to the growing literature on urbanism and innovation - and should be read by anyone thinking about which policies will be most effective in growing the U.S. economy in the 21st century.
NOOOOO. The narrator clearly knew nothing about Detroit and his pronunciation of local place names was atrocious! What a terrible oversight for a book ABOUT Detroit, and the publisher was from Chicago. Lame
Well written and researched.
He clearly knew nothing about Detroit. I got distracted part way through and started making a list of all the words he mispronounced.
This was a great book especially in the beginning. I got lots of interesting facts and figures. I felt that the end of the book was not nearly the quality as the beginning. I felt it skimmed over much the "1948: 250th Anniversary!" It did give some great information on the "Henry Ford Era" but again not enough; and it didn't seem to have enough information on the revival and the 2008: 300th Anniversay!" I am glad I read the book, but it seemed to be hastened during the end!
The Beginning History and the facts and details - the civil rights of Detroit was also interesting for me!
Early African America struggles.
It was a great book in the beginning!
The author shares the major turning points in the city's life. In it I began to feel both a vested interest and a sympathy for the people who put so much stock in it's well being.
I think the thing that hit me strongest was the broad view with which the book was written. The cities decline was something that was set in motion many years before.
The reader mispronounces a few street names, but overall, I thought that the reader had an enjoyable tone and cadence.
I like that it was a concise overview of the history. It is a very thorough overview, hitting many of the important events and diving into a few unique details of each event. The author is very forward about the book not going into detail about unions and the auto industry, but their is enough detail to understand the importance of major events to the trajectory of the city. The book has inspired me to learn more about Detroit and its major historical players.
Good book! Having grown up in Michigan, it was interesting to hear the history behind the city of Detroit. With the turmoil surrounding Detroit, it's debt, the crime, the flocks who've left and the hope from those that choose to stay, it was sad to hear how great the Motor City once was.
Having grown up in Lansing, Michigan history is always something I want to read. Throughout the entire book I found myself trying to picture what it must have been like in the 20's and 30's. Those days are long gone and it may be a long time if ever before Detroit will be as respected as it once was. Sad to see.
I listened to this book twice, each time finding myself captivated. I'll probably try and buy the hard copy for my shelf.
I learned a lot more about the politics that were going on when I was a child
The names of local places and streets are frequently mispronounced. The pronunciation of a major street in Detroit, Gratiot was almost unrecognizable. This is so distracting that it really should be rerecorded.
Doesn't know Detroit
The reader's mispronunciation of several Detroit area names is very distracting if you are familiar with the area: "Gratiot" should be pronounced "GRASH-ut", not "GRATHio". And it's "E-corse", not "e-CORSE", and "maCOMB" county, not "MAYcom". He also often puts emphasis in the wrong places in sentences.
The book itself often diverges into huge amounts of largely irrelevant detail, especially distracting when listening.
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