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Detroit: An American Autopsy

by Louise Adams
Saturday Aug 3, 2013
Detroit: An American Autopsy

Outlaw Pulitzer Prize-winner Charlie LeDuff moved back to his rust bowl hometown to portend the Motor City's recent bankruptcy in his raw post-mortem "Detroit: An American Autopsy." "Is this city an outlier, or the epicenter, of the decay of America?" he wonders.

The auto industry created a mid-century boomtown of 1.85 million people, which brought in southern workers, along with a racism which still divides the crumbling city. Detroit is now the illiteracy leader and foreclosure capital of the county, a place with no grocery store chains, which the US Army has had to occupy three times. It's the same city that gave Saddam Hussein a key to the city and never took it back.

Due to white flight and crippling recession (despite the $17 billion bailout in 2008 - remember the auto execs flying their private planes to DC to beg Congress?), Detroit is the only major American city to have contracted. The current population is only 700,000, with 40% of the city vacant and reduced city services like street lights and 911 operators, so the coyotes are moving back downtown to the place where random fires are common because "arson is cheaper than a movie."

LeDuff's own story mirrors Motown's: both are ballsy and rough, down, but still kicking. The author lost his sister and niece to the city's drugs and violence, while Detroit's former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once suspected of murdering his stripper girlfriend Strawberry, was found guilty of multiple counts of racketeering and extortion.

"Is Detroit an outlier, or the epicenter, of the decay of America?"

Honest about himself and his profession, LeDuff's notes that "a man with no real talents turns to journalism" and adds that "reporters are body collectors who parachute into human misery." But it takes a jaded journalist to document a lawless city, and this writer nails it (the audio book's reader less so: while the narration moves along, the delivery sounds like film noir, especially when detailing the crime scenes).

This dissection is a necessary primer to see where Detroit has been in order to suss out its future. After all, says LeDuff, the city is "like Pompeii, but still alive."

"Detroit: An American Autopsy"
CD Set Audio Book

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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