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Detroit: An American Autopsy [Hardcover]

Charlie LeDuff
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Detroit: An American Autopsy + The Last Days of Detroit: Motor Cars, Motown and the Collapse of an Industrial Giant + Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (7 Feb 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205345
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205347
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 376,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Detroit 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. What he reveals is that Detroit is, once and for all, America's city: it led the way up, and now it is leading the way down. Full description

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another adventure 4 April 2013
By niek
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Considering that this writer already has managed to write one epic adventure (multiple actually) in US GUYS, this is not that bad. Great writing style, overarching storylines and just a blast to read. For a european this is a must read if you want to know things inherently USA.

This book is not just about the Boom and Bust of motorcity DETROIT but everyone in it. Individual storylines that really suck you in. Firefighters having to do with pretty rundown equipment, with devastating results when trying to put out a blaze. Corruption on a scale so grand there is simply no coparison. Politicians taking on 7th graders in debates and visa versa. Family deaths, family feuds you name it.

Just like Leduffs previous works it consists of short stories, that all overarch in the grand scheme of things.

Definite recommendation to basically anyone who likes reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Like a folksy chat in a bar 11 Oct 2013
By Trev Go
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Being one of those odd types who are fascinated by urban decay, this was a must read for me. I was familiar with LeDuff through his video clips for Fox TV that can be found on Youtube, so did not anticipate a book written in classical prose. He's whole demeanour is that of someone brought up in the gritty environs of Detroit. Hard drinking, hard smoking, and using a vernacular so American, the book could really do with a glossary for Europeans. Through his anecdotes, he paints a very vivid picture of what goes on in a barely functioning city, although one does wonder if things haven't been a little embroidered here and there. It would not be the first time he has been accused of such in his career.

A dry historical analysis of Detroit is never going to give the best account, and I welcomed the view through his personal perspective, which struck me as pretty well sorted. He does not, for example, skate around the race issue just to remain "politically correct". He speaks as he finds. This was a book I didn't to put down until I'd finished, which did not take long. It's not a hefty tome. Thoroughly recommended.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  690 reviews
160 of 166 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Down and dirty account of the decline and fall of the Motor City. 4 Feb 2013
By Paul Tognetti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"Studying the city through the windshield now, it wasn't frightening anymore. It was empty and forlorn and pathetic. On some blocks not a single home was occupied, the structures having fallen victim to desertion and the arsonist's match. I drove blocks without seeing a living soul." -- p. 71

It was not quite the homecoming that Charlie LeDuff had hoped for. LeDuff had won a Pulitzer Prize during an 11year stint as a staff reporter for the New York Times. In 2007 he abruptly quit his gig as a member of the Times Los Angeles bureau after he decided that he was tired of L.A. and that his wife and three year old daughter really needed to be around family. Charlie LeDuff's clan resided in and around the city of Detroit. Much to his surprise when he contacted the lowly, virtually bankrupt Detroit News about a position he found that one was available. The die was now cast. His bosses at The News had already figured out the best way to utilize their talented new reporter. They told him to "chronicle the decline of the Great Industrial American City." This was going to be right up his alley. Charlie LeDuff liked to get his fingernails dirty. He knew things were pretty bad in his hometown but until he actually arrived there he had no idea just how ugly it had gotten. "Detroit: An American Autopsy" is the rough and tumble story of a city in total free fall. Perhaps what is most frightening about what you will read in this book is that what has happened in Detroit could well be repeated in a number of other major urban areas around this nation.

So just who is to blame for the demise of this once great American city? Depending on your politics just about everyone has a theory. Liberals point their finger at the greedy executives of the auto industry and Wall Street who shifted hundreds of thousands of jobs away from the Motor City to places like Mexico. Conservatives on the other hand would tend to blame ill-advised trade legislation like NAFTA and the corrupt Democratic political machine that has run this city for decades for many of the problems. But when Charlie LeDuff started to crunch some numbers what he found was simply astounding. To fully understand just how far Detroit has fallen you need to know that in its heyday in the 1960's the city boasted a total population of 1.9 million. By the early 1990's that number had fallen to 1.2 million. Now in 2013 the population of Detroit has dwindled to fewer than 700,000 people! Meanwhile, there are in the neighborhood of 62,000 vacant houses in Detroit. It seems all that left is a destitute underclass and an extremely corrupt bureaucracy. City services such as police and fire and public works are a joke. The equipment these public servants are forced to use is antiquated and extremely unreliable. Staffing has been cut to the bone. Another barometer of just how bad things have gotten in Detroit is the number of dead bodies piling up at the morgue. LeDuff reports that on any given day there are around 250 unclaimed bodies. One has sat there for more than two years!

Throughout the pages of "Detroit: An American Autopsy" Charlie LeDuff shines the spotlight on all of ills of this once proud metropolis including unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, arson, murder and widespread bureaucratic corruption. It is all too much for those who remain. This is a dangerous place to be. Along the way LeDuff investigates the corrupt city administration, looks into the death of a beloved veteran firefighter killed during an arson and chronicles the most bizarre real life murder story you will likely ever hear. And yet, despite it all the author points out that there are still many good people here who are doing their best to stop the bleeding. You will meet a number of them in this book who despite the odds consistently go above and beyond the call of duty in a largely vain attempt to save the city they love.

"Detroit: An American Autopsy" is a riveting expose of the decline and fall of a once great American city. Recently, Forbes magazine pointed to Detroit as "the most miserable city in America". After reading this book it is easy to see why! I had heard stories but had no idea that things were this bad. Some would argue that it is probably too late to save Detroit but Charlie LeDuff would beg to differ. In spite of all the problems he encountered during the two years of reporting it took to cobble together this book he still sees a glimmer of hope out there. This really is a story that needed to be told. Other American cities would do well to learn from the myriad mistakes made here lest they suffer the same fate. "Detroit: An American Autopsy" would be a great choice for anyone interested in the future of major American cities and for general readers as well. The language gets a bit colorful from time to time but as I pointed out earlier Charlie LeDuff likes to get his fingernails dirty. Highly recommended!
98 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blisteringly Honest 7 Feb 2013
By Shlok Vaidya - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I've read and written a lot about how America is dying. Regulatory capture, Wall Street, global arbitrage and deviant entrepreneurs collaborated to massacre the middle class.

But I always came at it from the perspective that the country is mid-collapse. That we still have time. That we can still swing the wheel and, for the most part, make it through. Sure, we'll pay $8 for a gallon of gas, we'll overpay for armies of contractors we don't need, but we will make it through. We're America after all.

Charlie LeDuff convinced me we may be too late. The book is aptly titled, Detroit: An American Autopsy. What if the land of the free, of prosperity, of two cars and a picket fence succumbed to the corrupt, the incompetent, the immoral?

He describes the imbeciles that run Detroit - not just its corrupt, race-baiting politicians, but also the evil puppet masters, the CEOs, that pulled their strings. He takes us on a journey through those we abandoned on the front line, one he describes as a "landscape of fire and human failing." We watch them live, fight, and die. He talks to the workers in factories, once producing subprime mortgages, now reduced to relabeling screws. He speaks with the mothers of the dead. We walk with him as he tries to make change, failing more often than not. His own life is inexorably tied into that of his failed city, so we feel his guilt, his family's mourning, the pain of finding work, the toll it takes.

He writes like Naipaul. Blisteringly honest. Solid, real flow.

And it presents the viewpoint that we're not careening into failure. We're already there. Ours is a state soon to be hollowed out by failed cities. America was murdered. What we live in is fundamentally different from what we had. We're in the middle of launching what is new. Its time to approach it that way.

Regardless of whether you believe in American decline or not, this book presents a compelling, unflinching perspective that is worth reading.
98 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grim, unrelenting, blunt and harsh - but not exploitative 1 Feb 2013
By Nathan Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A lot's been said about "Decay Porn," where reporters/writers/photographers from out of the city sort of parachute into Detroit and then pontificate about whatever they've observed. It's not that their observations are invalid, but they obviously lack a personal perspective.

Charlie LeDuff, a native Detroiter who grew up, left, then came back, has the zeal of a missionary and the anger of someone who knows nothing he says can make a lick of difference. So this narrative of connected essayish accounts doesn't offer a solution as much as a passionate sermon of rubbing-your-face-in-it. But if one can't offer a solution, at least a writer can take a reader to the ground level that's often overlooked by those more focused on the big picture.

Most of these chapters originally appeared as newspaper reportage that LeDuff has fleshed out in more detail. That's not a problem, and he's done a good job of connecting all the anecdotes together so it reads as a consistent narrative. LeDuff is both primary character and narrator, and his strong, sometimes strident, voice carries the story along.

His 'characters,' police, firemen, occasional politicians, are of the tough-as-nails variety. I don't think the 'good guys' will mind their portrayals, even if they are a little over-the-top at times. With that, they seem to be treated fairly and honestly and their stories are not exploited for casual emotional gain.

The villains come across as slothful, incompetent and venal - all believable politicians and hacks.

It's four stars mostly because it's one-note at times. The stories are generally depressing and terrible, just like Detroit life, and there's not too many bright spots. Hard to love a book like that - but LeDuff's great writing style and powerful storytelling makes it easy to like. Any fan of Hunter Thompson will appreciate his take-no-prisoners literary approach.

I can't imagine liking LeDuff if I met him. I feel like he'd be an overpowering personality interested in what people have to say only as long as it's interesting to him. But that sort of focus on the "people as story" is how you end up with a strong piece of reportage like this. Tell the story, don't spare the feelings, and if it's harsh and ugly, people need to suck it up and learn a few things.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking. But I couldn't put it down. 4 Feb 2013
By P. Eisenman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Charlie LeDuff's DETROIT: AN AMERICAN AUTOPSY is a heartbreaking book--especially if you're a native Detroiter. Yet it was so compelling I couldn't put it down. More of an anecdotal evidence presentation than a scholarly analysis of what went wrong with the Motor City. But, I think that's why this book is so good. It puts faces to the stories and makes it all too real.

A mixture of Mr. LeDuff's personal and family story as it happens alongside the demise of a once great metropolis. Usually, I'm not a real fan of this type of book. However, this one was so well woven that I can't really find anything to dissuade me from given it FIVE STARS.

Topically, having been born in Detroit and spending the first 20 years living just the other side of the "buffer zone", I could totally relate to Mr. LeDuff's narrative. I'd seen much of what he'd seen while I was growing up, including the sad decay of the Packard factory on East Grand Boulevard where one of my grandfathers worked. Detroit had already started its long slide by the late 1960s, yet retained some of its former glory. I can remember, as a kid, crossing the Eight Mile and getting the "make sure the car doors are locked" warning from my Dad as we headed south while still being regaled with stories of how Detroit was so much superior (even at that time) to New York or Chicago. "The city of trees and parks," as my mother described it. Still, there are many good memories--the Michigan State Fair, Belle Isle, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Historical Museum, Cobo Hall, J.L. Hudson's downtown store and more. I moved to the other end of the state in the mid 80s, haven't been back for a visit since 1998 and I've been warned not to go. Not because it's "dangerous", but because it's so hard to see what's happened. Better to imagine that what you remember is still like it was.

Back to the book. It's well written and fast paced. I whizzed through it in ONE DAY! (I said I couldnt' put it down!) Large amounts of profanity which might be disturbing to YOU. Probably not as compelling if you're not from or familiar with Detroit and what it used to be. Disturbing and depressing in a way, yet somehow in the end, Mr. LeDuff left this reader with some bit of hope that maybe the decent people can somehow wrest control back and at least stop the decay. The reality is I don't think there is any means to stop the snowball from rolling downhill, but at least this book imbued a feeling of hope.

If you are a native Detroiter, this book is a MUST to read. My only tiny gripe--Studebaker never built cars in Detroit--they were from South Bend, Indiana! FIVE STARS. It's sad and brutal, but if you grew up believing that it was DETROIT and not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles that made the U.S. the greatest economic powerhouse in the world, you need to read this. It'll break your heart. You might be able to leave Detroit, but Detroit never leaves you.
72 of 88 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Charlie LeDuff Confronts the Demons Within and Elsewhere in Detroit 28 Jan 2013
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Charlie LeDuff is a good writer, a strong stylist, and he writes, spare, powerful prose from the Gonzo, AKA Hunter S. Thompson School of journalism. His credentials are impressive. He is a Pulitzer Award winning author and a journalist who embraces confronting the underbelly of the American experience, its tormented, its down and out, its outcasts.

With the Great Recession of 2008, he feels drawn to go back to his roots in Detroit, which he argues is a microcosm of what is going to happen to the rest of America. He leaves his job at the New York Times, then the Los Angeles Times and takes a job at the rundown Detroit Times, described as moribund with chalk line around his new office area rug that looks like, as he describes, a murder scene.

In his several, short chapters he captures the despair of scandalous politicians, laid-off workers, his own dysfunctional family members, his own dysfunctional marriage, and his own demon-possessed self.

In the process, he's held up by robbers at a gas station, he must confront the demons of losing his sister to a horrible, untimely death many years ago in Detroit; a call girl is murdered, there's a sewage scandal, his brother's dog dies from eating toxic dog food made in China; he finds a dead man frozen in ice; fighting with his wife about his obsession with his work and dealing with the darkness, they fight with such rage, that the cops arrive, hand-cuff him, and put him in the slammer.

The despair in this book is relentless with no comic respite and at times I felt there was an egotism that drove LeDuff to almost celebrate this dark madness, as if his graphic descriptions of it would somehow empower him.

The end result of these short chapters of brutal anecdotage is some strong pieces that stand well by themselves, but I'm sad to say they don't add up to much. The chapters lack cohesiveness and we, the readers, who have a grasp of what's going on in the headlines won't be shocked by the Great Recession's havoc on people's personal lives.

So while I was eager to read a coherent narrative about a man confronting his personal demons in Motor City, what I got was some disjointed chapters from a man who needs to find a way to shape, refine and package his rage into a more coherent whole.
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