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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (175 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Scott Martelle Narrator: William Hughes Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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When we think of Detroit, we think first of the auto industry and its slow, painful decline, then maybe the sounds of Motown, or the long line of professional sports successes. But economies are made up of people, and the effect of the economic downfall of Detroit is one of the most compelling stories in America. 

Detroit: A Biography by journalist and author Scott Martelle is about a city that rose because of the most American of traits—innovation, entrepreneurship, and an inspiring perseverance. It’s about the object lessons learned from the city’s collapse, and most prosaically, it’s about what happens when a nation turns its back on its own citizens.

The story of Detroit encompasses compelling human dimensions, from the hope it once posed for blacks fleeing slavery in the early 1800s and then rural Southern poverty in the 1920s, to the American Dream it represented for waves of European immigrants eager to work in factories bearing the names Ford, Chrysler, and Chevrolet. Martelle clearly encapsulates an entire city, past and present, through the lives of generations of individual citizens. The tragic story truly is a biography, for the city is nothing without its people. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Martelle tells the story of Detroit from its founding, with an eye toward the roots of its current problems. Narrator William Hughes’ friendly tenor makes the story more engaging. His pace is consistent and well measured, and his pronunciation is always clear.”


  • “This unsentimental assessment is rich with cold, hard facts about those responsible for what Detroit became and what it is today, and one cannot avoid the parallels between the failures of the legendary titans of banking, industry, and politics and the city’s calamitous decline. Equally evident is the courage and resilience of those who continue to build a positive future for the city.”


  • “Former Detroit News reporter Martelle vividly recounts the rise and downfall of a once-great city…An informative albeit depressing glimpse of the workings of a once-great city that is now a shell of its former self.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Former Detroit News journalist Martelle explores the troubled city where he once worked. The author shows how no other American city has been gutted so deeply…a situation caused in part by auto-industry decline, racism, and anti-unionism…Martelle’s case study combines history, economic evaluation, and firsthand accounts from individual Detroiters…A valuable biography sure to appeal to readers seeking to come to grips with important problems facing not just a city but a country.”

    Kirkus Reviews

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Megan | 2/18/2014

    " Disclaimer: I've always been horribly bored by early MI history and generally more interested in the 20th century than all years prior, so it should be no surprise that I found the first two thirds of this book to be a bit of a chore. The thing is, I get the feeling that Scott Martelle did as well. There were points where I tuned out and then back in and didn't feel I'd missed much of real importance, or anything I hadn't already read in Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis. That said, he does ramp up in the last chapters and epilogue with actual insight and opinion, and a genuinely passionate response to those who attempt to blame the state of Detroit on those who have not abandoned the city. Hence the third star. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Eric | 2/12/2014

    " Very interesting read. Martelle says up front that this isn't an exhaustive history of the city, and he's true to his word. It offers a history of the city grouped around the nexis of race, class, industry, and political movements. Offers a sad glimpse of what may await other great American industrial cities with an over reliance on one industry. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Paul | 1/26/2014

    " I learned many elements of Detroit history that were previously unknown to me. The author's main theme seems to be one of corporate responsibility and deep-seated racism throughout the 300 years of Detroit's history. Poignant ending wraps together the growth and decline of the city. There were some glimmers of hope dashed through the pages, but the overall theme was only through some great trans-formative change would the city recover. The author seems to place the recovery of the city in great doubt. After digesting his book I would tend to agree. The industrial hey-day that brought Detroit growth from the start of the 20th century to WWII is no more. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by R | 1/20/2014

    " It held my interest, but man what a tough life that city's had in the last century or so. "

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About the Author
Author Scott Martelle

Scott Martelle is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer and author of three books of nonfiction. He has covered three presidential campaigns as well as postwar reporting from Kosovo. He is the cofounder of the Journalism Shop, an active blogger, and a regular book critic with reviews and articles appearing in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Publishers Weekly, and other outlets. He lives with his wife and children in California.