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Showing 1-10 of 87 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 115 reviews
on December 6, 2013
I wish I could give this book 4.5 stars, but I feel that it is closer to a 5, so I am giving it that.

Honestly, had I not moved to a city near Detroit and seen it for myself I wouldn't believe this book. I didn't believe half the things that people said about the city in general, thinking that it was a sensationalized darling of the media. I'm from a big city, and have seen a good share of them-and Detroit is like nothing I've seen before. Empty skyscrapers and high rises, some beautifully structured, gape at you, yet many of the city's cultural institutions are open and uniquely worth a visit. Huge mansions are available for the standard price of a house in Los Angeles and regular homes are available for less than a laser printer, while new condominiums are being built and sold for the same price as the historic mansions. That's in the city proper, the only part I've visited. In the living part of downtown, the new Whole Foods proudly advertises itself.

This book contains obviously contains many years of research on the history of Detroit, as well as a lot of interesting interviews and concepts. It's far from a coolly written academic text, being infused with the descriptions and opinions of the author who is often times a wry commentator and, in fact, grew up in the city himself. It's an extremely interesting, up-to-date, and raw read. In fact, I would have given it an outright five had I not disagree with a couple points regarding his treatment of racial politics, which he generally handles well throughout the book. As is widely known, Detroit's history is intertwined with the history of race in this country, and it is essential to discuss this in any book on the city-the discussions in the book about the riots are particularly interesting-and attempting to avoid controversy by avoiding the topic would be to miss a large part of the city's culture and evolution. However, I disagree with his treatment of a particular mayor. He defends him by virtue of his charisma and the continued interest of the city in him-which is obviously sort of like people's interest in reality TV-but never shows any reason why the hatred of him within the suburbs/city is connected to racial politics. Indeed, stealing, gang politics, and the other "interesting" activities he engaged in are more than enough to make people hate him, no matter his persona.

But, this one topic out of many aside, I definitely recommend this book.
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VINE VOICEon February 10, 2013
Binelli is a good writer and has produced an interesting if breezy overview of efforts to make something of Detroit.

The author, a Detroit native, moves back to the city to chronicle the people who hope to reinvigorate what is arguably America's most desperate urban area. This is not "ruin porn", as apparently people call profiles of Detroit that focus on the mayhem, arson, desolation and abandonment that have bled a once booming metropolis of over 2,000,000 people down to today's count of 700,000 inhabitants. The desolation, failures, and rotten characters are a part of the story, but they form the backdrop for a book that recounts Detroit's rise, fall and present state of hope a midst the hopelessness many feel for the city.

The reader gets early chapters on the carving out of the wilderness of the French trading post that became Detroit, its rise as an industrial center and peak as the home and production site of automobiles. The movement of autos first to the suburbs, then to the South and overseas, social unrest in a bi-racial metropolis, the 1967 riots and corrupt urban politics each acted as accelerants upon each other, fueling an unhealthy urban environment that led to the flight of whites and middle class blacks away from the metropolis. These people took with them from the city much of the entrepreneurship that can sustain jobs, the tax base and the density that every city needs to pay for basic services and infrastructure in urban areas.

For some reason Detroit's fall has been uniquely physical among American cities. Detroit residents have an inexplicable romance with fire; the number of arsons that claim buildings exceeds that of other cities by a large amount. Lately mayors have taken to demolition of large numbers of abandoned buildings. What official Detroit doesn't get, scrappers do - entrepreneurial citizens who take homes and buildings apart for copper tubing, fixtures and any other building materials that can be reclaimed and sold.

This has produced a city that is largely abandoned in many areas. What exists, doesn't work well. A history of corrupt politics along with a shrunken tax base means that citizens are largely without basic services - Binelli chronicles one 911 "center" that is a fireman on the porch of a run-down station with a telephone. That public official attempts to direct the one ambulance in his area to multiple situations nightly. That means that stroke and heart attack victims wait sometimes hours for a response.

With buildings being taken down, there is enough open land within the city limits that agricultural industries and farming are serious proposals to reinvigorate the economy. This would be on top of the many small farm-plots that dot the city presently, inhabitants using a cheap available resource (open land) to produce income by the planting of crops.

Binelli's book is largely about the people who look for solutions - like the small urban farmers above and Mayor Bing, who is trying to physically move the spread-out population back to a tight urban core in order to deliver services more efficiently (this plan calls for abandonment of largely sparsely inhabited outlying areas). Hope does spring eternally and one will find himself rooting for these schemes even if they seem like long-shots.

The other characters the author highlights include firemen, who he accompanies on runs and around the station house; neighbors - each of whom seems much more colorful than an average group one would find living on your block, and politicians. The politicians are of course, both a symptom and cause of some of Detroit's woes. Recent Mayor Kilpatrick proved incredibly corrupt as well as incredibly bad at hiding his personal aggrandizement. He and some other powers-that-be remind one of the corrupt third world countries that steal most international aid for their own profit and are quite brazen about it.

On the whole Binelli's survey is interesting and well painted. The reader gets enough glimpses at the severe decay and abandonment within which the city exists to satisfy the urge to know what Detroit is really like in detail. The glimpses of hope offer that; the personalities is some cases are testaments to the will to survive; in others examples of the depths people can sink to when parasiticly trying to steal, cheat and scheme their way through life.

A minor annoyance is Binelli's seemingly reflexive tilt to the left. A couple of gratuitous George Bush and conservative swipes were uncomfortably placed in his text. The major fault I found was that he blamed the de-industrialization of Detroit wholly on the managers of GM, Ford and Chrysler. No mention of the effect that strong labor unions had on pushing costs up to the point where they were anti-competitive with the rest of the world and other areas of the United States.

On the whole, an interesting read.
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on May 8, 2014
If you are at all interested in Detroit, urban fluorescence and decline, the American Rust Belt or cities in general, this is an extremely intriguing and informative look at the disparate, though interdependent, threads of economic, social and political history that have made Detroit what it is today.

I suspect that many people who intend to read this book are Michiganders who have grown up hearing stories about the "good old days" of Detroit. I'm sure many of you are tired of hearing about Detroit's problems, and maybe, like me, are getting tired of the media circus that surrounds the city and seeks to profit from its demise. For all of you, let me tell you what this book is not.

It's not:
political propaganda
gawker/ruin porn
messiah mentality
exaggerated optimism

Instead, Binelli's book is a hard, honest (dare I say, "Midwestern"?) look at what's happening in the city and how it got to where it is today. Binelli manages to tie together the threads of Detroit's history so eloquently that the complexities of the city, which are often barely visible to outsiders, come into magnificent focus with each chapter. This book is more than an evenhanded account of Detroit; it is one of the definitive accounts, bowing only to Sugrue's "Origins of the Urban Crisis."

In short, I highly recommend Binelli's book. If you are at all interested in Detroit, this one is not to be missed.
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on August 11, 2014
I bought this book primarily because I'm drawn to the idea of starting over, reinventing oneself, and to the challenges of creating new space, built upon the old. The picture of Detroit provides for that type of thinking - at least in theory. I'm not sure, after reading this book, that it also provides for it in fact. Detroit is either a city ripe with opportunity, or it is a death trap - the author herein let's you decide for yourself which. I'm still drawn to the IDEA of Detroit, but that may be all that it is . . . the United Nations having to get involved so that thousands of poor people could have access to drinkable water in an American city is a travesty that maybe defines both the theory, idea and fact of Detroit better than any writer could conceive or communicate. Nevertheless, I found myself reading this book long into the morning - a couple 1 and 2 AMS came and went in the very few days it took to read the 300 pages of this account. I felt like I was standing with the author as he journeyed through a city rife with problems, desperation and glimmers of hope. It's well worth the time and the price - I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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on October 21, 2014
Excellent analysis of the city of Detroit, but it still did not prepare me for the living ghost town Detroit has become. The Michigan Central Train Station, a building once so stately and elegant, now derelict with not a single window intact, enclosed by chain link fence guarding an immaculate landscape filled with blooming unreal as to be spookily eerie! But this is Detroit, and the renewal in the core of the city is obvious, there are bright spots of new development just as he championed them. And the Eastern Market is a very urban success, beautifully done. Mr. Binelli is an excellent writer, writing about a subject very close to his heart that he knows extremely well. But I got the feeling there are still many layers to the Detroit story that remain untold, or perhaps are untellable. Still, if you want to know about Detroit today, this is the book to read.
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on October 5, 2014
Compelling, well-written, and a must for anyone who cares about Detroit; and all of us should care. Binelli explores the city's history with an eye for the mistakes that culminated in the perfect storm of circumstances bringing Detroit to its knees. It is no doubt a cautionary tale for a lot of other places. His narrative is sometimes painful reading for those like myself, who in childhood, indeed looked at the Motor City as the place to be, but it is also tantalizing and hopeful. There are a lot of courageous Detroiters improvising creative solutions to problems in their neighborhoods; but they aren't the ones typically in the headlines. Read this and you will be cheering for these unsung heroes, and looking forward to a day when you will gladly venture downtown again.
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on September 20, 2014
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on January 12, 2013
I grew up in a Detroit suburb in the 60's & 70's and can definitely relate to much of what is being written. Some of it I had no idea, being I was in High School and not really aware of the what/why of things that were happening, so it has been kind of a "I didn't know that."

Not a surgical review of the demise of Detroit. Much more laden with heart and love.
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VINE VOICEon June 8, 2013
Mark Binelli has just the right sensibility to write this book. As someone who grew up in the Detroit area, whose family worked there, and who returned to live in the city while he did his research, he has the required blend of detachment and empathy to report on what some see as an American ruin.

Right away, he tells you he's not framing things by the usually listed causes--the 1967 riots, white flight, political corruption, decline of the auto companies, over-reaching unions, white suburbanization, and so forth. Not that these aren't part of the picture, but Binelli is not a political scientist but a storyteller tuned to the voices of people whose experience is not mitigated by political and professional interests or theories. I loved the people he picked, and as time goes by, you can see that all kinds of people are drawn to share their stories with him.

He's unblinkingly incredulous about the city's crime and criminals, its feckless and reckless politics, yet there's no moralizing, just insightful description. I suspect you have to be a fan of cities to resonate with his descriptions of urban abandonment and decay. So much of it is poignant, especially the pain it brings to people who cannot afford (or choose not) to leave. One woman tells him that she dare not visit her son in California or her sister somewhere else for fear she'll never return.

Yet you can see why people find Detroit mesmerizing. Like many of the black residents he interviews, Italian-American Binelli is not particularly impressed that Europeans are fascinated by the aspects of ruin. Nor is he entirely enthusiastic about white urban farmers, hipsters and artists who move into an essentially black city as though it's their birthright. But you couldn't find a better guide to Detroit today. I feel better prepared to visit myself.
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on March 20, 2013
I grew up in Ann Arbor and in my youth, we used to put on gloves and travel to Detroit to enjoy the "big city" and go to ethnic restaurants--and to Hudson's to see Santa Claus and do seasonal shopping. I've always been sad about the destruction of Detroit and hopeful for its revival (the Renaissance Center was obviously not the way to go!). Binelli clearly likes people; his story of Detroit is full of wonderful encounters with residents and tourists, buildings and projects, which are warm, insightful and hopeful--although not overly optimistic. I personally would love to see Detroit really become "the place to be" once more.
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