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The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,123 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Once America's "arsenal of democracy, " Detroit has become the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's dilemma of racial and economic inequality, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty.
Paperback, 375 pages
Published August 21st 2005 by Princeton University Press (first published December 1st 1996)
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Oct 29, 2012 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Stunning really, searing and beautifully thorough research on race, political economy and the urban fabric of Detroit.

He engages with some central questions: what the hell happened to rust belt cities, how did they turn from industrial centers to economic backwaters, how did the ghetto form, how did segregation and racism persist? He then answers these questions, in the process knocking the almost the entire body of literature on the 'underclass' out of the ballpark. He does build on those that
David Bates
Apr 17, 2013 David Bates rated it really liked it
In his 1996 work The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit Thomas Sugrue focused on the implications of the racism in the residential and labor markets of Detroit for the city. Key to Sugrue’s approach is his view that race is an economically and politically constructed concept that creates an illusion of difference, from which social prejudice arises. In large part Origins is framed as a rebuttal to “influential conservative scholars, backed by well-funded think ta ...more
Feb 14, 2011 Dan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Sugrue presents a contrarian view of 20th century Detroit. While the post-World War II era is often remembered as a time of unmitigated prosperity, Sugrue’s analysis contends that Detroit was always fragile, even if just under the surface. He points to social tensions from overwhelming racial discrimination in housing and employment, wanton disregard for the city (and state) by the automobile industry, the poaching of jobs by other states, and the Federal government’s encouragement of decentrali ...more
Nov 01, 2013 Erica rated it it was amazing
Shelves: michigan, planning
When did Detroit go wrong? The 1967 riots are often seen as the beginning of the city's tragic decline, but Sugure argues that the seeds of downfall were sown much earlier - in the 1940s. A toxic mix of elements: the dispersal of the auto industry away from the city, along with institutional and cultural racism that limited the options of black Southerners who had come to Detroit seeking a new life after the war, resulted in the implosion still visible today.

As someone who grew up in suburban D
Jun 17, 2010 Megan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: detroit
As many other raters have mentioned, this book is an eye-opening, must-read account for anyone interested in Detroit, Urban Studies, or the politics of race. I'm surprised to find some have called it dry, because I actually found it to be pretty readable... And I often give up on super academic, jargon-laden works.

I loved this book, but I thought that the analysis of automation and decentralization by manufacturers in Detroit (particularly the big 3) was extremely biased against corporations. I'
Jan 24, 2011 Kb rated it it was amazing
Incredibly thorough and depressing study of Detroit's postwar urban crisis. Most tragic are the countless self-destructive decisions and self-fulfilling prophesies made by white Detroiters, including government officials and employers. Detroit is a city that was violently brought down by racial discrimination in many forms, including housing and employment discrimination, divided labor unions, and grassroots racisim, especially among working-class Catholics. Detroit is one city that lends itself ...more
Nov 28, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes the most telling thing is what they didn't teach you in school.

Sugrue clearly did his homework researching this book, and makes a compelling argument for how many of the issues plaguing Detroit (and other American cities) have their roots in deindustrialization, and -- perhaps moreso -- in workplace and housing discrimination that effectively wiped out opportunities for minorities.
Joseph Stieb
Mar 27, 2015 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
If you've ever wondered: "Dang, how did our inner cities get to be the way they are today, especially Detroit?" this is a great work for you. Sugrue traces the growth of urban inequality and segregation from WWII to the 1967 riots in Detroit and outlines the deeply rooted causes of the urban crisis.

WWII witnessed a vast expansion of economic opportunity for whites and African-Americans in Detroit with the growth of war industries. African Americans flooded the city from the South, creating a ser
May 06, 2015 Gramarye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, written in the mid-1990s, is still as relevant and applicable for reading today as it was two decades ago. Looking at Detroit as a specific case study, it picks apart the many tangled threads of race relations; class differences; the influence of religion; the decisions of business and industry; and the actions (and inactions) of the local, state, and federal government to reveal the reasons why one particular city -- once the shining example of America's productivity -- collapsed und ...more
Selmoore Codfish
May 27, 2013 Selmoore Codfish rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful book. It was so powerful that it made me want to put it down so that I wasn't impacted by the ways that it pulled at me. Sometimes it was hard to take.
It is an essential book on race relations. It shows the historical context that built up to the riots and why Detroit has become what it is today.
The book has information pre-World War II, but focuses on the time between the war and the 1967 riot. The conclusion shows how the urban versus suburban hostilities developed, and why
Ian Zimmerman
Aug 04, 2015 Ian Zimmerman rated it really liked it
I took a break from fiction and medical textbooks to read some history/social science. This book looks at the massive problems that Detroit was suffering in the 1990s and continues to suffer in 2015. What was the root cause of these problems? When did they start? Who was responsible? Obviously, the answers to these questions like most historical questions are highly complex and require a lot of research. Thomas Sugrue put in an astounding amount of effort and detail into a diagnosis that goes wa ...more
Aug 14, 2014 Laura rated it it was amazing
Thomas Sugrue examines the causes of the “urban crisis” of major American cities which involved white flight and suburbanization and caused high levels of poverty and unemployment for the urban black population. Sugrue contends that this phenomenon was not inevitable, but was caused by economic and racial policies which began amidst the post World War II national economic boom. Race riots as seen in Detroit in 1967 were the climax of these tensions. Through statistical analysis, demographic maps ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Dunrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history, place
I gave this book so many stars because it illuminated a familiar place to me - my hometown of Detroit. It is clearly written. Yet, I found it difficult to read because of its subject matter and I procrastinated finishing it by reading other things.

I grew up in Grosse Pointe, an affluent suburb bounded on two sides by Detroit. The contrast between the class and racial makeup of those who lived in Grosse Pointe and those who lived across a seemingly arbitrary political border in Detroit was stark.
Apr 11, 2012 Mscout rated it really liked it
With this work, Thomas J. Sugrue presented a new interpretation of the decline and fall of the American industrial city using Detroit as a case study. While previous historians have pointed to the riots of 1967 as the fulcrum upon which Detroit’s (and by extension other northern industrial cities’) fortunes turned, Sugrue pushed that point back by two decades. Instead he contends that the seeds for the city’s substantial decline were actually sown in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Ther ...more
Oct 18, 2007 Jasmine rated it really liked it
Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and
Inequality in Postwar Detroit uncovers the multiple intertwined causes of urban decline and crisis in Detroit. Complicating the sociological reasons for the presence of the underclass and urban decline, Sugrue stresses the
need to look at the history of the political economy of Detroit in order to find the sources of urban crisis. Sugrue’s meticulously documented book ,rich with archival sources, statistics, photographs, and personal accoun
Apr 15, 2013 Alessandra rated it it was amazing
Prior to Thomas J. Sugrue’s landmark publication, popular appraisals of America’s urban crisis wedded urban decline to globalization, corporate outsourcing, and the oil crises of the 1970s. The Origins of the Urban Crisis, however, paints a different picture. Sugrue’s case study of Detroit determines that the interplay of postwar deindustrialization, workplace discrimination, and residential segregation sealed Detroit’s fate as an impoverished city deeply divided by race.

The temporal origins of

Dec 05, 2014 Brent rated it really liked it
Shelves: research
This academic work meticulously traces how Detroit progressed from one of the key cities in the US to its current situation. Sugure goes further back in his analysis than most, looking at how the response of people and institutions in Detroit to the Great Migration continued to have a profound impact on the city during the decades that followed.
Sep 05, 2011 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book changed how I look at the modern landscape of American cities. Sugrue focuses on the post-WWII trends in Detroit, but the same population and industrial patterns are found to a lesser degree in just about every other Rust Belt metropolis. I grew up in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the US, and now I have a better idea of how it got that way.

He takes on a number of tough topics that culminate in urban decay: systemic discrimination and segregation in the workplace and h
Denise Ervin
Jun 17, 2014 Denise Ervin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The truly amazing thing about this book is just how much is feels like dejavu. As a native Detroiter, there were many things in our history with which I was familiar and some I was not, but this work brought them all into focus for me. Reading through the history of this great metropolis gave me a new perspective on some of the troubles we currently face and, in a lot of ways, I can see the sociopolitical, racial, and economic climate circling the bend as the events that shaped our present repea ...more
Feb 07, 2016 Eliza rated it it was amazing
Brilliant account of the decline of Detroit and of other Rustbelt cities. This book will also help you understand the origins of the environmental crisis in Flint because the racial dynamics are very reminiscent of what happened in Detroit.
WM Rine
Jan 17, 2015 WM Rine rated it it was amazing
A stunning book, and one I'd recommend for anyone who likes to dabble in politics and theories about economics and industrial policy. For anyone with even a general knowledge of Detroit's troubled history or its present financial challenges, what Sugrue covers here won't be a surprise so much. Instead you're likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and persistence of the institutionalized racism in federal and city policy, coupled with the fears and prejudices of working class whites (the ...more
Jan 24, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing
This book is tremendously good. Perhaps the single best book I read during my four years of studying history in college. The only criticism that I have about it is that since the book's main unit of analysis is Detroit, most of its conclusions are not really applicable to other cities in the U.S. Detroit is such a unique case because of its total dominance by the single most important American industry of the 20th century. That's kind of nitpicking though. If you have any sort of interest in urb ...more
Extremely influential study of the importance of race in urban history.
Feb 07, 2015 Alice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Really interesting, well-written, well-researched book arguing that the decline of Detroit traces back to forces long before the race riots of the 1960s -- to entrenched housing and employment discrimination against people of color in post-war cities, and the collision of those forces with deindustrialization. Excellent and illuminating book -- well worth reading. It is remarkable to think that this was only half a century before (and it'd be naive to think that the same forces of housing segreg ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Brandon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essential to any understanding of Detroit is an understanding of the history of its other 'Big Three': racism, inadequate housing, and runaway capital. Sugrue's book has the sad details.
Jan 23, 2008 James rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone in SE Michigan; urban politics/ministry folks
As a transplanted west-coaster recently arrived in Michigan - Sugrue's work first caught my eye several months ago. Now that I've finished, I wish I'd read it months earlier. He provides a close examination of the historical and sociological background to the 1967 Detroit riots beginning with the rapid industrialization and residential growth in the early 1900s. And by beginning his account so early, offers a richly nuanced and multi-faceted account.
A must-read for anyone doing ministry in Detro
Sep 30, 2008 Andy rated it really liked it
This is a book that attempts to chronicle the demise of the City of Detroit and the racial tensions that were at play at the time of the initial decline. Sugrue attempts to show how events unfolded and what resulted from those events. It covers the time period leading up to but not including the late 1960's riots. It is a must-read for anyone in the Metro Detroit area. Perhaps it provides a bit of perspective and knowledge into how we got to where we are now.
Jul 23, 2008 Dalia rated it really liked it
So the truth is, I never read the whole thing...Exceedingly academic, the type of reading that requires even your windows to be closed in the summer lest the childhood ditties wafting from the ice-cream truck outside hit your ears and cause you to have to re-start to read and understand the paragraph AGAIN.

But so powerful, of the 150 pages or so I got through, I feel like Detroit is a pivotal part of understanding contemporary urban spaces anywhere.
Nov 25, 2012 Ian rated it liked it
Read for school. Sugrue does a nice job with his case study of Detroit, though he mainly focuses on the realms of employment and housing. I wonder what effect discrimination and differences in health care and education had on the "urban crisis." He also denies any agency to black agitators for labor and housing gains by focusing so much on the factors acting against such gains.
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