In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots. In another life, Charlie LeDuff won the Pulitzer Prize reporting for The New York Times.
But all that is behind him now, after returning to find his hometown in total freefall. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed; where his sister lost herself to drugs; where his brother works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “Made in America.” 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. He embeds with a local fire brigade struggling to defend its neighborhood against systemic arson and bureaucratic corruption. He investigates state senators and career police officials, following the money to discover who benefits from Detroit’s decline. He befriends union organizers, home do-gooders, embattled businessmen, and struggling homeowners, all ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination. Americans have hoped for decades that Detroit was an exception, an outlier. What LeDuff reveals is that Detroit is, once and for all, America’s city: It led us on the way up, and now it is leading us on the way down. Detroit can no longer be ignored because what happened there is happening out here.
Redemption is thin on the ground in this ghost of a city, but Detroit: An American Autopsy is no hope parable. Instead, LeDuff shares a deeply human drama of colossal greed, ignorance, endurance, and courage. Detroit is an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer—and a black comic tale of the absurdity of American life in the twenty-first century.