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Detroit: An American Autopsy Paperback – January 28, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 966 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After a career as a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter with the New York Times, LeDuff answered the longing to return to his roots in Detroit, a city that was once at the forefront of American industry and growth. What he returned to was a city now more famous for its corruption and decay. LeDuff reprises the shenanigans of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and city councilwoman Monica Conyers and others before the slow-moving justice process caught up with them. Among the other signs of decay: a police department so broke that cops take the bus to crime scenes and a fire department so bereft it sells its brass poles as scrap. He reports on surreptitious meetings with police officers to counter rosy reports of declining crime rates. He also reports on the personal toll the city’s decline has taken on its citizens, including his own family, with grim stories of his brothers’ chronic unemployment and his sister’s and niece’s deaths from drug overdoses. With the emotions of personal connection and the clear-eyed detachment of a reporter, LeDuff examines what Detroit’s decline means for other American cities. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"LeDuff returns, by the books end, to the bar where his sister was last seen, only to find it unrecognizable. A black man outside explains the changes. 'they trying to put something nice up' in this hellhole he says, speaking of the bar specifically, though his words spread across the city and pay tribute, in equal measure, to its dreamers, its pessimists and to those, resigned and wrung out, who love it despite all. 'Can't say it's working. But what you gonna do? You ain’t gonna be reincarnated, so you got to do the best you can with the moment you got. Do the best you can and try to be good.' LeDuff has done his best, and his book is better than good."
—Paul Clemens, New York Times Book Review

"One cannot read Mr. LeDuff's amalgam of memoir and reportage and not be shaken by the cold eye he casts on hard truths... A little gonzo, a little gumshoe, some gawker, some good-Samaritan—it is hard to ignore reporting like Mr. LeDuff's."
The Wall Street Journal

“Pultizer-Prize-winning journalist LeDuff (Work and Other Sins) delivers an edgy portrait of the decline, destruction, and possible redemption of his hometown…LeDuff writes with honesty and compassion about a city that’s destroying itself–and breaking his heart.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“A book full of both literary grace and hard-won world-weariness…. Iggy Pop meets Jim Carroll and Charles Bukowski”

“This is our pick for a sleeper nonfiction hit next year. Charlie LeDuff is a remarkable journalist, and this book is filled with incredible writing as he witnesses his home city crumble through neglect and corruption.”
Huffington Post

“What to do when you’re a reporter and your native city is rotting away? If you’re LeDuff, you leave The New York Times and head into the wreckage to ride with firemen, hang with the corrupt pols, and retrace your own family’s sad steps through drugs. Others have written well about the city, but none with the visceral anger, the hair-tearing frustration, and the hungry humanity of LeDuff.”

Advance Praise for Detroit:

"You wouldn't think a book about the stinking decay of the American dream could be this engaging, this irreverent, this laugh-at-loud funny. But not everyone can write like Charlie LeDuff. I'm tempted to say he's the writer for our desperate times the way Steinbeck and Orwell were for other people's desperate times, except he's such an original he's like no one but himself."
—Alexandra Fuller, author of Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

"Charlie LeDuff is a drunkard, a blowhard, a Fox News Reporter -- and a brilliant writer. Detroit is full of righteous anger and heartbreaking details. It's also funny as hell. Hunter S. Thompson would've loved every page of this book."
—Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness

"In Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charlie LeDuff brings alive the reality of our beloved city. The city where I was shot at eight times during my twenty six year police career. Yet, Detroit has survived in spite of corruption, political ineptness, poor education, and decades of unemployment. Detroit: An American Autopsy is a must read for all of America."
—Detroit Police Chief Ike McKinnon (retired); Associate Professor of Education, University of Detroit Mercy

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143124463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143124467
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (966 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Studying the city through the windshield now, it wasn't frightening anymore. It was empty and forlorn and pathetic. On some blocks not a single home was occupied, the structures having fallen victim to desertion and the arsonist's match. I drove blocks without seeing a living soul." -- p. 71

It was not quite the homecoming that Charlie LeDuff had hoped for. LeDuff had won a Pulitzer Prize during an 11year stint as a staff reporter for the New York Times. In 2007 he abruptly quit his gig as a member of the Times Los Angeles bureau after he decided that he was tired of L.A. and that his wife and three year old daughter really needed to be around family. Charlie LeDuff's clan resided in and around the city of Detroit. Much to his surprise when he contacted the lowly, virtually bankrupt Detroit News about a position he found that one was available. The die was now cast. His bosses at The News had already figured out the best way to utilize their talented new reporter. They told him to "chronicle the decline of the Great Industrial American City." This was going to be right up his alley. Charlie LeDuff liked to get his fingernails dirty. He knew things were pretty bad in his hometown but until he actually arrived there he had no idea just how ugly it had gotten. "Detroit: An American Autopsy" is the rough and tumble story of a city in total free fall. Perhaps what is most frightening about what you will read in this book is that what has happened in Detroit could well be repeated in a number of other major urban areas around this nation.

So just who is to blame for the demise of this once great American city? Depending on your politics just about everyone has a theory.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A lot's been said about "Decay Porn," where reporters/writers/photographers from out of the city sort of parachute into Detroit and then pontificate about whatever they've observed. It's not that their observations are invalid, but they obviously lack a personal perspective.

Charlie LeDuff, a native Detroiter who grew up, left, then came back, has the zeal of a missionary and the anger of someone who knows nothing he says can make a lick of difference. So this narrative of connected essayish accounts doesn't offer a solution as much as a passionate sermon of rubbing-your-face-in-it. But if one can't offer a solution, at least a writer can take a reader to the ground level that's often overlooked by those more focused on the big picture.

Most of these chapters originally appeared as newspaper reportage that LeDuff has fleshed out in more detail. That's not a problem, and he's done a good job of connecting all the anecdotes together so it reads as a consistent narrative. LeDuff is both primary character and narrator, and his strong, sometimes strident, voice carries the story along.

His 'characters,' police, firemen, occasional politicians, are of the tough-as-nails variety. I don't think the 'good guys' will mind their portrayals, even if they are a little over-the-top at times. With that, they seem to be treated fairly and honestly and their stories are not exploited for casual emotional gain.

The villains come across as slothful, incompetent and venal - all believable politicians and hacks.

It's four stars mostly because it's one-note at times. The stories are generally depressing and terrible, just like Detroit life, and there's not too many bright spots.
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I've read and written a lot about how America is dying. Regulatory capture, Wall Street, global arbitrage and deviant entrepreneurs collaborated to massacre the middle class.

But I always came at it from the perspective that the country is mid-collapse. That we still have time. That we can still swing the wheel and, for the most part, make it through. Sure, we'll pay $8 for a gallon of gas, we'll overpay for armies of contractors we don't need, but we will make it through. We're America after all.

Charlie LeDuff convinced me we may be too late. The book is aptly titled, Detroit: An American Autopsy. What if the land of the free, of prosperity, of two cars and a picket fence succumbed to the corrupt, the incompetent, the immoral?

He describes the imbeciles that run Detroit - not just its corrupt, race-baiting politicians, but also the evil puppet masters, the CEOs, that pulled their strings. He takes us on a journey through those we abandoned on the front line, one he describes as a "landscape of fire and human failing." We watch them live, fight, and die. He talks to the workers in factories, once producing subprime mortgages, now reduced to relabeling screws. He speaks with the mothers of the dead. We walk with him as he tries to make change, failing more often than not. His own life is inexorably tied into that of his failed city, so we feel his guilt, his family's mourning, the pain of finding work, the toll it takes.

He writes like Naipaul. Blisteringly honest. Solid, real flow.

And it presents the viewpoint that we're not careening into failure. We're already there. Ours is a state soon to be hollowed out by failed cities. America was murdered. What we live in is fundamentally different from what we had.
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