While on my cyber-holiday, I took in some non-fiction reading. This book about Detroit caught my eye, so I downloaded it. I read a favorable review about it from an online journal, saying the story is an honest point of view from a writer from Detroit, who is a former NYT journalist.
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff begins with his life in California and his decision to drop out of a job out of state to be with his wife while his daughter is being born. Following the experience, he realizes the importance of family, so he moves back to his original home on the outskirts of Detroit. He gets a job at a local newspaper, makes the usual contacts as expected for a veteran journalist, and reestablishes his relationship with his mother and brothers. He lost his sister many years earlier in part to her involvement in drugs.
What I liked about this book was how well LeDuff created this history of the Motor City; not just the automobile industry as we all know, but the start of the credit industry that allowed average Americans to purchase cars, refrigerators, and other home appliances. He describes in excellent detail how Detroit created the American middle class in many ways outside of the job creation.
He also did well in crashing the clichés about the factory jobs, which had begun to decline in the mid-20th century. Yes, the jobs were there, but some of the youth of his era weren’t very interested in the physically labor-intensive work that their grandfathers did. I found this understandable; when I was younger I couldn’t think of a worse place to live as my hometown and there was some kind of dream lurking ahead to a better life.
LeDuff did describe the complex issues of race relations in the former great city. Nobody is spared of responsibility, and to me, when reflecting back to his words, it’s really a combination of many problems happening at once over at least forty years created Detroit as it is now. The city had seen its share of riots and violence, but at the same time many people try to stick together the best they can. He gave tragic stories of a lost fireman and an unclaimed corpse found in the ice.
The story LeDuff tells of Detroit is a tragedy, but with an uplifting message that people are still there. People like you, neighbors, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and grandparents. The city’s emptiness is a reminder of its greatness at one time. As the media roll out bad after bad story about Detroit, what I like to keep in mind is that people are still there.