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The Last Days of Detroit: Motor Cars, Motown and the Collapse of an Industrial Giant [Hardcover]

Mark Binelli
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Jan 2013

By the end of the nineteenth century, Detroit, founded by the French as a fur-trading post, was thriving. In 1913 Henry Ford began mass-producing cars at his Model T plant, transforming the area into the Silicon Valley of its day. By 1920 it was the fourth largest city in America and by the mid-1950s General Motors had become the single biggest employer on earth. Here indeed was 'the most modern city in the world, the city of tomorrow'.

But by the time Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1960 - thereby creating twentieth-century Detroit's other great assembly line - the cracks were already beginning to show: big industry was looking elsewhere for cheaper sites, cheaper labour and better tax breaks; urban planning was in meltdown; corruption was rife; racial tensions were running high. The 1967 riots - at the time the worst in US history - left 43 dead, more than 7,000 arrested and 3,000 buildings destroyed. Detroit, a former beacon of the capitalist dream, had degenerated into an urban wilderness where unemployment ran at 50 per cent. With more guns in the city than people, the murder rate was the highest in America - three times that of New York.

Mark Binelli returned to live in his native Detroit after a break of many years. He tells the story of the boom and the bust - and of the new society to be found emerging from the debris: Detroit with its urban farms and vibrant arts scene; Detroit as a laboratory for the post-industrial, post-recession world. Here's what an iconic rust-belt city now looks like and how it might transform and regenerate itself in the twenty-first century.

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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 + Detroit Disassembled
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bodley Head (10 Jan 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 184792168X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847921680
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A riveting and hugely unsettling guided tour through his dysfunctional, compulsively interesting home town... Binelli, journalist with Rolling Stone magazine, is not only a native son of Detroit, but also an acute and canny observer of its bracing dilapidation. And he is never less than informative when it comes to detailing its manifold quirks and strange historical nuances. Binelli constantly shows himself to be a hugely erudite yet eminently streetwise guide to the city in which he came of age. This is a clever, endlessly inventive, passionate tour through the most down-and-out yet plausibly possible of American cities" (Douglas Kennedy Times)

"A story of extremes, mapped out by a restrained, clear-headed guide who loves the city as much as he is baffled by it" (Sean O’Hagan Observer)

"This book could easily be an epitaph but Binelli finds green shoots of optimism sprouting up amid the debris" (Mick Brown Daily Telegraph)

"A superb, diligent, forensic, study of the fall of a great city" (Jim Carroll Irish Times)

"Binelli is a gifted storyteller... this is a story told with vitality, wit and affection. the reader cannot fail to be moved by his conclusion, rooted in Detroit's own motto. Speramus meliora. We hope for better things" (Melanie McGrath Sunday Telegraph)

Book Description

A vibrant and authoritative sweep through the history, present day and future of an iconic city and its people.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where there's life, there's hope 31 July 2013
By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
I have never been to America, let alone Detroit, but I have a vested interest in America because of a shared culture, and some of that culture came from Detroit. It is so sad to learn about the state of the city in 2013, but even as the author (who was born in Detroit after the good times were over, and lived there for many years) paints a grim picture, he sees hope for what he found on a return visit.

Prior to buying this book, I only knew of Detroit specifically for its car industry (now a shadow of its former self), Motown (who were already beginning a long, slow decline when they moved to Los Angeles in the seventies, but failed to arrest that decline) and the song Detroit City, which became an international pop hit for Tom Jones. Those specifics aside, I knew where to find Detroit on a map of North America, and I assumed it was fairly typical of large American cities, with a multi-racial population and plenty of skyscrapers. In 2013, I heard about the city going bankrupt and soon afterwards bought this book. I was appalled to find out the truth about Detroit, which is very different now from what it once was.

I think most, perhaps all, of the individual problems described in this book have occurred at some time or other elsewhere, including in Britain. However, the sheer scale of the decline is on a far greater scale. However, like the author, I see some hope for the future, but it won't be easy. Given that I am somewhat older than the author, I don't think I'll live to see Detroit return to greatness, but I might live long enough to see clear signs of a recovery.

The author does not devote a lot of space to the early history, but gives a basic outline.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are you from Detroit? 18 April 2013
By MaryAnn
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm grew up the 'burbs of Detroit, but have lived in the UK for 25 years. This book was great at putting what I knew in context, but also put some of the things I thought I knew in the dustbin. The tale is a sad, often heartbreaking one but thankfully not one without hope. Should be required reading for anyone from or with an interest in the Detroit metro area.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and thought-provoking 9 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The decline of Detroit has been covered often by the media and locals are unsurprisingly unhappy at the coverage their city receives from journalists who are only passing through. However, this is almost certainly the best book that you will read on the subject, partly because Binelli is a Detroit native and partly because he's an excellent writer, bringing wit and humour where appropriate even to a serious subject. What has happened to Detroit is a salutary lesson to other American and Western cities but their is hope among the gloom as a group of pioneers attempt to construct a post-capitalist society. Overall, well worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No one's going to believe it......... 23 Mar 2013
By Mike France VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
.......was the reply the author received when responding to a Detroit firefighter asking if the book was to be fiction or non-fiction. His statement is close to the mark; it is truly almost too difficult to comprehend and believe in the collapse of what was once, the United States’ fourth largest city.

Binelli skilfully intermingles the reasons behind Detroit's demise with descriptions of the broken landscape and personal anecdotes, given by its remaining citizens. He charts a collapse into a nightmare world where the public services that we mostly take for granted (police, firefighting, education, street lighting etc), are near non-existent. A city where the shrunken population, too often composed of the disadvantaged unable to escape, is insufficient to service the city’s debts. Many just simply exist in the urban wasteland, zombie like, scraping a living from the many salvage opportunities.

But within this nightmarish apocalyptic scene, individuals come up with creative schemes for the future. Urban farms, plans to shrink the city limits to contain the populace in a more viable space, schemes to attract high tech industries and voyeuristic tourism are all fully described.

Born in Detroit, Binelli is easily able to mingle with its residents to extract their views and experiences. He knows where to dig to uncover stories of many unsavoury acts of its citizens both private and corporate. He paints a picture that is perhaps a pointer to the future for other cities unable to adapt to changing times.

Potentially a dark topic, Binelli makes this immensely readable. So readable, perhaps even those employed to represent us could understand and learn from it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling 5 Feb 2013
By ashtree
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book, written with amazing lack of bias but with great insight, is in the end quite chilling. One has been vaguely aware of the ramifications of the collapse of the U.S. car industry for this once great city but much of this is quite a shock. The way that rampant capitalism has blighted people and place is quite frightening. As the 'American Dream' becomes living nightmare the culpability of corrupt politicians and heartless administrators beggars belief as even the most basic services to communities are abandoned.
There are many lessons here, to which many in the U.S. seem blind, let us sincerely hope that this blight does not cross the Atlantic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars The new countenance of a post-industrial city
I’m tired of the images of decaying Detroit that have spawned a rush of coffee-table books, press stories and online photo-galleries of the city, once the fourth largest one in the... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Chris Pearson
5.0 out of 5 stars a book to enjoy and share
The Last Days of Detroit

The recent fate of Detroit is like a Rorschach inkblot test for commentators. Read more
Published 2 months ago by tallmanbaby
Published 5 months ago by m. dosa
4.0 out of 5 stars The account of what has happened in Detroit is a warning lesson for...
This book brings to the reader an account of what has happened to Detroit and its inhabitants in the last thirty years. Read more
Published 6 months ago by C. G. Watson (Cyril the Squirel)
5.0 out of 5 stars Detroit
I chose it because I had lived there around 1979. For me it was heart-breaking to read of the almost demise of the Detroit car industry. Read more
Published 9 months ago by John Alexander
5.0 out of 5 stars A great revelation
A successful gift which led to purchasing a further 3 copies. All well received as this provides a great insight into the 'motorcity'.
Published 11 months ago by sandra bruce
3.0 out of 5 stars Great stories but could have been better
This is quite an informative book and there are some interesting human stories. I just felt like the book itself didn't live up to the name or the front cover picture. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Peter Oldroyd
3.0 out of 5 stars Bloke wandering around the city of His youth.
I read the review in the Mail on Sunday, I thought it was the story of the rise and fall of the City of Detroit it's not it 's a series of interviews of various residents present... Read more
Published 13 months ago by C. R. Grosvenor
3.0 out of 5 stars Stumbling through the rubble strewn streets...
Found this book to be a rather academic study to something that could have been much more engaging - in the light of recent events it is also way off.
Published 16 months ago by Carter Brune
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