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Sunday, June 17, 2018

DETROIT: AN AMERICAN AUTOPSY (audiobook) by Charlie LeDuff

Published by HighBridge in 2013.
Read by Eric Martin.
Duration: 7 hours, 21 minutes.

Charlie LeDuff
This is one of the best audiobooks I have listened to in a very long time.

It made me laugh, made me think, made me glad I don't live in Detroit, made me worried that I live in another Rust Belt city that has lost a lot of its industrial base, and, over and over again, it shocked me.

Charlie LeDuff grew up in the Detroit area and moved away to do a lot of different things, including being a reporter for the New York Times (where he won a Pulitzer Prize). He came back home to Detroit to work for a newspaper and to be close to family. When you go away from someplace and come home you see things a little more clearly and he was more than a little surprised Detroit was not only every bit as bad off as most of the country believes - it was actually a lot worse.

I recently read the book Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein.  In a lot of ways, it is similar to Detroit: An American Autopsy in that they both detail the stories of a community wrecked by the collapse of the American automobile industry during the Great Recession. Janesville, Wisconsin is a small city that lost its lifeblood - a General Motors truck factory. Janesville lost one factory - Detroit has been losing factory after factory after factory for 50+ years. When Charlie LeDuff was growing up in Detroit, it was dying - but nobody knew it. When he returned it was painfully obvious that Detroit was gone.

But that's too simple. Detroit is not dead. It has firefighters fighting to save the town from chuckleheads that set fire to abandoned homes just to watch the show when the fire department shows up. It has police that keep plugging away, even though Detroit is regularly known as the "murder capitol" and its leadership seems focused on looking good rather than being good. It has people just trying to make a living even though almost all of the good factory jobs are long gone.

It has its lost people, its thieves and hustlers. It has people that use religion as a tool to fleece the people. Its schools are literally falling down around its children. It has people that just don't care. But it also has Keiara Bell, a middle schooler who scolded a member of Detroit's City Council for being rude during a council meeting (if only Keiara Bell had known the half of it). Bell, it turns out, graduated from a Detroit public school, went on to Wayne State University (in Detroit) and graduated and wants to go into city management. She is featured in this TV story by Charlie LeDuff.

This is a tough book. There is no happy ending. It's a messy discussion of race, class, crime, politics, money and LeDuff's personal life and it is compelling. I blasted through this audiobook, looking for chances to listen a little more. Eric Martin read the audiobook and he was perfect for it. He never hit a wrong note as he read the book. I hope he won some sort of award, but in keeping with the theme - why would he? After all, it is about Detroit.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5 and it can be found on Amazon.com here: DETROIT: AN AMERICAN AUTOPSY (audiobook) by Charlie LeDuff.

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