A plate of biscuits and gravy: Digging into “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff

A co-worker of mine was reading this book and the cover caught my interest. (Which is also why this post doesn’t have a picture of the book because I stupidly returned it to my co-worker without taking a picture.) I am not normally a big non-fiction reader, but this is the second non-fiction book that has kept me captivated in its pages this month. I am aware of the Detroit reputation and the effect of the crumbling American auto industry. Charlie LeDuff grew up in Detroit but moved away to experience a life outside of factories. He returned a few years later to bring up his family in the place he considered home and use his reporting job to document what was happening in his city.

This book is a gritty, unflinching and personal look at Detroit: its people, its politicans, its heros, its gangsters, its economy, and its history. LeDuff writes in gripping detail about the stories he encounters in Detroit as he jumps into the reporter’s lifestyle in his hometown. I was shocked at how Detroit appears more like it belongs in a third world country than a major city in the United States; the landscape full of abandoned houses, crumbling warehouses, rampant crime, insufficient public services and rising unemployment. The kind of place where you have to be careful even going to get a tank of gas in some parts of the city because you could be beaten and robbed.

And yet even in this seeming hellhole of decay and corruption, LeDuff brings humanity to life. His emotional attachment to Detroit and his passion for the people shine throughout his storytelling. He immerses himself in the people and the stories.

“Detroit” is not simply a reporter’s account or a collection of stories, it is also a memoir of LeDuff’s own family history in Detroit and his own experiences with race, loss, and factory employment. This invasion of the personal makes these stories even more powerful and enabled me to connect more to the people. I also appreciated how LeDuff gave some foundational information like how Detroit was founded, the place of the auto industry in Detroit, and the political figures in Detroit’s history.

If you are looking for some true stories of American life with great writing and can handle some foul language and gritty narratives, then give this book a read.

4.5/5 bacon strips


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