BOOKS

'Detroit: An American Autopsy' By Charlie LeDuff: Book We're Talking About

02/25/2013 08:54 am ET

Detroit: An American Autopsy
By Charlie LeDuff
Penguin Press, $27.95
Out now

What is it about?
Charlie LeDuff moved back to his home town to work for the local newspaper, where he discovered that things were worse than he realized. This brutal, yet affectionate tale is both gripping and eloquent.

Why are we talking about it?
Though Detroit seems a popular subject right now, this book would be remarkable no matter where it was set, thanks to LeDuff's writing. His lines pop, and his subjects are never simplified or patronized. It's a painful, gripping read, filled with dignity and hopelessness.

Who wrote it?
Charlie LeDuff was a staff writer on the New York Times for ten years before moving to work on the Detroit News in 2008. This is his third book.

Who will read it?
People who want to know what really went wrong in Detroit, and how the city (dys)functions on a daily basis. Fans of narrative journalism. People who love great writing.

What do the reviewers say?
Wall Street Journal:

"One cannot read Mr. LeDuff's amalgam of memoir and reportage and not be shaken by the cold eye he casts on hard truths. His is a gift for augmenting conventional wisdoms with an unblinking scrutiny of disorder, disease, dysfunction and death."

The Daily Beast:

"A unique, heartbreaking love letter to a city nearly forgotten."

Impress your friends:
In 1950, Detroit was the fifth-largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million. In 2010, it was 713,777.

Opening line:
I reached down the pant cuff with the eraser end of my pencil and poked it. Frozen solid. But definitely human. "Goddamn."

Typical passage:
He told me about the rationing of firefighters, the fact that 20 percent of the fire companies are closed down at any one time due to the lack of money in the city coffers. The fact that they must purchase their own toilet paper and cleaning supplies. The fact that they are forced to wear aging bunker gear coated in carbon. The city even removed the firehouse's brass poles some time ago and sold them to the highest bidder.

When you ask him to think on a grand scale, he says the problem is much bigger than city hall.

"I guess when you get down to it, it's simple," Nevin says. "The man took his factory away, but he didn't take the people with him."

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