Detroit: A Biography

Scott Martelle. Chicago Review (IPG, dist.), $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-56976-526-5
Former Detroit News reporter Martelle (Blood Passion) vividly recounts the rise and downfall of a once-great city, from its origins as a French military outpost to protect fur traders and tame local Indian tribes, to the industrial giant known colloquially as Motown, and now when its “economy seized up like an engine run dry.” Founded by a French naval officer named Cadillac, the city became a vibrant river town with the Erie Canal’s opening, exporting both to the east and westward to Chicago. The 1855 opening of Lake Superior later expanded its postbellum shipping capacity and brought heavy industry. By 1929, about 10% of the city’s population of 1.6 million (the nation’s fourth largest) worked in automobile manufacturing. But a series of downturns ravaged the city: the 1973 OPEC oil embargo helped destroy the city’s auto-industry dominance, and drug-dealing gangs caused a murder rate that far outstripped New York’s. Today, says Martelle, Detroit has been abandoned by both the Big Three auto makers and most of its citizens, leaving primarily black residents, many uneducated, jobless, and poor. Martelle, also an occasional contributor to PW, offers an informative albeit depressing glimpse of the workings of a once-great city that is now a shell of its former self. Illus.; 10 b&w photos. Agent: Dystel and Goderich. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/06/2012
Release date: 04/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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