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The Origins of the Urban Crisis Hardcover – November 25, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

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Winner of the 1998 Bancroft Prize in American History



Winner of the 1997 Philip Taft Prize in Labor History



Winner of the 1996 President's Book Award, Social Science History Association



Winner of the 1997 Best Book in North American Urban History Award, Urban History Association



One of Choice's Outstanding AcademicTitles for 1997


"In this important new history of post-World War II Detroit, Sugrue solidly refutes conservative theories about welfare dependency and deepens liberal thinking about the underlying causes of urban poverty."--Jim McNeil, In These Times



"[A] first-rate account. . . . With insight and elegance, Sugrue describes the street-by-street warfare to maintain housing values against the perceived encroachment of blacks trying desperately to escape the underbuilt and overcrowded slums."--Choice



"Perhaps by offering a clearer picture of how the urban crisis began, Sugrue brings us a little closer to finding a way to end it."--Jim McNeill, In These Times

From the Back Cover


"This superb study offers a richly detailed account of the rise and fall of twentieth-century Detroit.... Must reading for ... everyone concerned about the current urban crisis."--Jacqueline Jones, author of The Dispossessed: America's Underclass from the Civil War to the Present


"Sugrue's incredibly rich, nuanced, multilayered account of the transformation of Detroit provides the historical perspective missing in virtually all accounts of the crisis ravaging today's inner cities."--Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class


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Product Details

  • Series: Princeton Studies in American Politics: Historical, International, and Comparative Perspectives
  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 25, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069101101X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691011011
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,690,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Thomas J. Sugrue is a prizewinning twentieth-century American historian who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. His newest book is These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present (with Glenda Gilmore). He's working on a history of real estate in modern America. Sugrue grew up in Detroit.

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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is essential for anyone who really wants to understand the roots of urban decline in the United States since World War 2. Too many books focus solely on the debilitating effect of the welfare state. Urban decline is far too complicated to blame factor alone. The author of this book does an excellent job in examining the combined effects of housing and job discrimination, deindustrialization and the racist attitudes of many white Detroiters. To his credit, the author tells all sides of the story, so that no one side garners all the sympathy or hatred. Neighborhood associations are not mobs of angry, unthinking whites motivated solely by hatred of blacks; nor are blacks criminally-minded characters too lazy to find work. Once you look at everthing, you realize how intractable Detroit's problems were in 1970 and how they remain so today.
Although this book is about Detroit, this book also sheds light on the fate of other American cities (i.e. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Newark, NJ) that also experienced massive deindustrialization and population loss in the last third of the century.
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58 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Michalek on January 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Detroit metropolitan area today is arguably the most racially segregated region in the United States, with a primarily African-American, largely abandoned and dilapidated urban center surrounded by layers of primarily white, affluent suburbs. This book is essential reading for anyone who lives in southeast Michigan as well as other cities that have similar histories of industrialization, urban decline and concentrated poverty such as Cleveland, Gary, Philadelphia, and South Chicago.
Thomas Sugrue provides a thoughtful, well-researched, and fascinating analysis of systematic racial inequality in Detroit during the post World War II automotive industry boom of the 1940s through deindustrialization and "white flight", and ending with the catastrophic race riots of 1967. Sugrue avoids the current, common oversimplifications of blaming Detroit's urban crisis on the '67 riots or Mayor Colman Young by weaving together a complex story of human behaviors, fears, and incentive structures backed by data, references, and personal accounts: "By the time Young was inaugurated, the forces of economic decay and racial animosity were far too powerful for a single elected official to stem."
Sugrue's analysis provides insight to understand major groups of stakeholders and their interactions: Workers flocked from the southern states to Detroit seeking relatively high-paying automotive jobs. In the free market, resulting housing shortages allowed landlords to divide properties into tiny apartments and charge premium prices, protecting their investments by being selective in their choice of "low risk" white tenants. Bankers also preferred "low risk" clients, resulting in unequal access to funds.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By "abominablesnowmonster" on November 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Sugrue's work builds on that of other urban scholars, notably Arnold Hirsch and Raymond Mohl. Sugrue challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decay is the product of the social programs and racial problems of the 1960s. He looks beneath the surface prosperity and social consensus associated with the 1950s and finds the rise of hidden racial violence, a new ghetto (sim. to what Hirsch and Mohl term the "second ghetto"), discrimination, and deindustrialization. Sugrue seeks to rectify the lacking historical perspective that has hindered "underclass" studies. His work suggests that the intersection of race, economics, and politics in the 1940s-1960s paved the way for a social and economic disaster in modern cities. Sugrue argues that in the wake of Detroit's World War II boom, the city fell on hard times. As a result, a shrinking pie (so to speak) became highly contested by blacks and whites, particularly in the workplace and in marginal neighborhoods. Sugrue examines the racism associated with federal and local collusion to keep blacks confined in low-rent districts. Further, urban slum clearance and freeway construction worked to the detriment of the black community. Sugrue also shows how industries and businesses deserted the city in a mass exodus as whites went to the suburbs. The result? A spatial mismatch between jobs and the jobless. In the interest of space, I neglect numerous important aspects of Sugrue's seminal work. THE ORIGINS OF THE URBAN CRISIS should be mandatory reading for anyone who is too quick to blame "liberalism" and the Great Society for our urban ills. Essentially, Sugrue confirms for Detroit what Arnold Hirsch found true of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s -- that the conservative backlash does not spring completely from a sense of a failed Great Society.
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35 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Tom Munro on May 22, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is quite a remarkable book. It attempts to explain the riots that occurred in Detroit in the late 1967. These riots were racially based and some of the most brutal in America.
The book basically is about racism. It describes the history of racism in Detroit between the 1930's and the 1960's. Unlike other books that tend to be anecdotal this book attempts to look at the mechanics of the process and to provide empirical material to illustrate and validate the material in the text.
The story of the book is that racism is a complex phenomenon. Detroit in the 1940's had a vast appetite for labor. This lead to it being a city in which Afro Americans could be employed. Large numbers began to migrate and to fill the more lowly paid jobs in the auto industry. The book explains the sorts of mechanisms, which governed this process. How employers would discriminate against blacks, to keep them in lowly paid positions and the fights that some unions engaged in to overcome such practices.
The book goes on to explain how housing was one of the main ways in which blacks were able to be limited to certain areas. The widespread use of housing covenants permitted blacks to be excluded from more affluent areas. This meant that blacks became concentrated in small areas which subsequently became ghettos. The action of courts and legislatures to overcome the use of discriminatory covenants was opposed violently. The book shows how populist politicians would ply the race card to gain election at the expense of the more principled. How they would exploit the fear of residents about the alleged nexus between Afro Americans and crime. This in turn led to violence being unleashed on those Afro Americans who were able to afford housing in more affluent areas.
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