Elin's Reviews > Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

Detroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark Binelli
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Nov 15, 2012

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Read in November, 2012

i got this book for free in a giveaway, so i will actually write a review. i read too much to write reviews for everything but if it means goodreads is more likely to give me more free books i'll write a few hundred words, why not.

in general this is a good book. (3 stars is a good rating from me.) it has most of the things i am looking for in nonfiction, including (most importantly) an exploratory tone. the scenic narration in particular is very compelling. it has literary ideas, which is essential for me. i read a lot of dull, rote nonfiction, and this is not that. the writing is also quite exciting in passages, which is as expected from mark binelli.

ultimately what kept it from 4 stars was that it didn't lead anywhere. i don't mean that i wanted a moral to the story, or a facile conclusion, no. but such exploration must uncover something, even if that something doesn't add up definitively, and though this book spreads out in all directions it doesn't connect its thoughts on a level deeper than the geography. this is the danger of a book that is solely about a place, i think. the story can drown in the deluge of material. this story certainly doesn't drown, but it does seem to swim aimlessly at times.

for all i felt that this book wasn't rote, it did adhere to the formula of such books, which i found quite disappointing. reading the prologue i was very, very excited about this book, because it seemed like it was going to be exactly the kind of nonfiction i like best: thoughtful and unconventional. but then it launched right into the obligate "history of detroit" chapter, just like all the quirky one-topic books i used to read in high school to get ideas for informative speeches. the book is in a strange netherworld between that kind of book and something greater; within its relatively rigid chapter structure there are passages of great beauty and strangeness, but when the chapter ends and a new one begins we return to the conventional fact-telling that plagues such books and the wonder the previous chapter accrued dissipates.

that said, though, this book does have ideas, and that's the most important thing. three stars from me means it's worth reading, and may be essential if the subject matter meets your particular interests. so if you are a michigander or a city-obsessive like my brother this book is perfect for you. this is also worth checking out if you are interested in quality journalism and/or quality nonfiction, as it is certainly that, despite its faults.

(i low-rated this; if i return to this review after a week or so i may upgrade it to 4 stars. probably really a 3.5. who cares about the ratings anyway, though? i don't.)
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