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Detroit: An American Autopsy

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  13,718 ratings  ·  1,940 reviews
In the heart of America, a metropolis is quietly destroying itself. Detroit, once the richest city in the nation, is now its poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, automobiles, and blue-collar jobs—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neat ...more
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 304 pages
Published February 7th 2013 by The Penguin Press
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  13,718 ratings  ·  1,940 reviews

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Jul 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
It was a cold morning; the fog had settled in low over the city and the mood on the street was grim as always. I'd just finished reading the daily rag and was throwing it in the trash when there was a knock at my door.

"Detective, there's a...there's a BOOK here to see you. It says its name is Detroit: An American Autopsy."

"Christ. Send it in, Dolly, and keep your mouth shut about it." Dolly's full, plum-colored lip quivered as she turned to usher in the tome, her ample breast heaving within the
Jennifer Oddo
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Detroiters and people who like horror stories
Recommended to Jennifer by: Jeffrey
It's sad how accurate this book is.

Charlie LeDuff isn't just from Detroit, he's an insider. His revelations about many of the stories I heard about on the local news are scary and completely believable.

My only criticism of the book, if I had to give one, is not LeDuff's failure to recognize the "good parts" about Detroit (really, that's not the focus of the book) but rather the unwritten implication that the "white suburbs" stand quietly by, not suffering from what's happened to Detroit. In re
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone

Whew! So much corruption at all levels of government, local, State, and even Wayne County? I am shocked! Having grown up in a suburb of Detroit and hearing of some of the corruption and hard times via relatives who still reside there over the past years, it never really struck me of how bad it is/was until I read this book.

Of all the horribly sad stories of innocent children dying, homes set on fire for fun, police and fire departments understaff

Greg Watson
May 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The city, what's left of it, burns night after night. Nature--in the form of pheasants, hawks, foxes, coyotes and wild dogs--had stepped in to fill the vacuum, reclaiming a little of the landscape each living in Pompeii, except the people weren't covered in ash. We were alive."

In Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charlie LeDuff presents a street-level view of Detroit. The book is less a history of the causes of Detroit's decline than it is an anecdotal look at what the decline means for
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
I am a native Detroiter who is still loyal to the city, hoping it will again be a place where families can live a decent life in a cultural metropolitan city. I picked up this book, hoping for some answers on what happened to Detroit. After all, an autopsy promises some answers, a beginning to unraveling a mystery of what happened.

You won't find any of that in this book. The author lays down some anecdotal stories, which while interesting, weren't very fulfilling. At this point, we all know Detr
Bill Shea
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Charlie is a friend, but I say this regardless of that: I enjoyed this book immensely. I read it in bed at night, and it made me want to stay up and read more. Now, that may be because I know these stories and live in Detroit, and know LeDuff, but I think it's also because it's a good read. It's not stifling academic lecturing. It's down in the gutters. A good look at how a prominent journalist does his work, too. My full review is coming out in an upcoming issue of the Columbia Journalism Revie ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a well written and well researched book that is nevertheless depressing as hell.

It’s about Detroit and what a shithole it is, written by a native Detroiter who came home after years to find it worse than when he left.

Journalist Charlie LeDuff’s 2013 novel is about going back to Detroit and describing how this failing American metropolis could be a microcosm of what is wrong with our country as well as the world economy. Painting with a sympathetic but damning brush, LeDuff shows off his
Intrigued by the beginning, but thinking it could really go either way with this one by the time I reach the end... the stories are always interesting, but the journalistic machismo is getting distracting.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful book, so real as to be too much so at points. Author Charlie LeDuff is unflinching in his portrayal of two stories: his own and that of his hometown, Detroit (to which he returns at mid-career). While LeDuff's life story is intriguing, the tale of the Motor City is almost too fantastic to believe ... and it's in this gritty, unflinching and ultimately loving relaying that the book achieves its glory.

As the author makes clear, Detroit is a window into and reflection of our coll
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was a great book that I couldn't put down, as much as you can say a book about a destroyed city is great. What makes it great is the journalist-author Charlie LeDuff, who is from Detroit and has lost several family members to terrible situations there. This makes it different from a detached, paid-to-experience book that most journalists will write, forgotten the minute they are published. This is partly about the city of Detroit, and partly about Charlie's own life and background. The mix ...more
Dec 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: midwest, cities, memoir
This is the kind of book that you get when some guy, who tells a decent story now and again, and who is often the recipient of a pat "you should really write a book about this someday, you know?" finds himself with time on his hands and decides to make a go of this whole book thing. The result doesn't quite hold together.

It's part Guy Noir (“The strain was showing on Monica Conyers like a cheap cocktail dress”), part anecdotes about how commonplace corruption and violence is in Detroit, part De
Feb 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was in Detroit a few months ago doing research at the Ford archives. People were very friendly to me during my entire stay in that down home, I put one pant leg on at a time way that they are in the Midwest. Even wealthy Grosse Pointe types were like this. Someone asked me how often I came to Detroit. "I was last here 34 years ago for my best friend's wedding," I said. "Well, it was a lot better here 34 years ago, that's for sure," he said. "He's damn right," another said who had been eavesdro ...more
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
It's OK. Actually, LeDuff is a really good writer, and the pages do fly by, but I couldn't help but feel that on a number of occasions he was so over the top that I thought I was caught in a chapter of Elmore Leonard's City Primeval (a better book, IMHO). Then again, I Googled up images for Detroit, particularly the areas LeDuff writes about, and was shocked at how bad Detroit does look. These areas often look like haunted war zones. If this is the future, we're totally screwed. The book itself ...more
Patrick Sherriff
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't put this down. Written as a memoir of two years covering Detroit for the Detroit News, Charlie LeDuff writes like the bastard love child of Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson brought up in Motor City. You could criticize this as being a highly partial, biased take on what is going on in Detroit, and that would be true: LeDuff is quick to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad and then proceeds to tell it like it is, from his perspective anyway. And why not? Whose perspe ...more
May 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I am somewhere between three and four stars for Detroit: An American Autopsy. First off, I must own a oversupply of northern Midwestern pride, and although I've only visited Detroit a couple of times, I feel like an invisible chain links Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, etc. So if you're picking on Detroit you're kind of like picking on my cousin. However, my cousin is in bad shape, no doubt, and he shoots heroin and has lost too much weight and is kind of an asshole. But he's my cousin.

Ghost of the Library
I wont start this with a summary of the book or of the history of Detroit - its been done here, by much more talented people than me.
Suffice to say that, at any given point - as long as you are a car lover/american history nerd - most of the planet will have heard the name Detroit and shuddered without even really knowing why.
The rise and fall of the city has always had a particular appeal to me, its a bit of a rags to riches tale - but in reverse!
In this book what the author proposes is to sh
Apr 02, 2013 rated it did not like it
Rambling, pointless book by a journalist who became momentarily well-known because of his involvement in a news story about some dead guy in Detroit whose feet were found sticking out of a frozen puddle in an abandoned building. This book is a collection of disconnected vignettes that supposedly illustrate life in Detroit, but they don't add up to much of anything. (A lot of people wander into the book, but none are treated in any depth, and it all seems to be idle stuff dumped out of a reporter ...more
Greg Brozeit
Detroit—An almost impossible place. An American place from which Americans cast away their eyes.
When the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, countless Germans, especially those living in the camps’ vicinities, were forced to line up, walk through, and bear witness to what they had made possible, actively, passively, or somewhere in between. I believe something similar should be done in Detroit, to see what one of the great American cities has become and how it reveals realities of American li
Michael Hicks
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, giveaways
First things first – I was lucky (and honored) enough to win an advanced reading copy through a Goodreads Giveaway. I’ve enjoyed LeDuff’s work on Fox 2 Detroit and had been wanting to read “Detroit: An American Autopsy” since I first heard of its planned publication in a three-part profile on LeDuff that ran on Deadline Detroit.

LeDuff’s on-camera work is polarizing – he’s eccentric, bombastic, assured, confrontational, and sarcastic. He’s a Detroit newsman through and through, but an on-air pers
Nancy Oakes
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite, nonfiction
Detroit: An American Autopsy is a combination of gritty reportage and personal memories punctuated with a vein of dark humor that tells the author's story of his attempt to understand what has happened to his city. Detroit is where Charlie LeDuff grew up and after some time away, where he lives now. The book is an uncompromising account of a city that was once the richest in America and the forces, both external and internal, which have led Detroit down a steep path of decline. At the same time, ...more
Jul 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Examining the ruins of Detriot is a fashionable pastime these days. I admit, I am interested in the empty, rotting factories and found the documentary "Detropia" fascinating. And I'm a little bit obsessed with Henry Ford at the moment. What a dick!

Detroit: An American Autopsy is extremely thought provoking, although the title was misleading. I thought an autopsy would be a systematic, detailed examination of what went wrong and where the city is now. Instead, it is a series of... well...anecdote
Mar 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
I think that Charlie LeDuff is a journalistic Raymond Chandler, a 21st century Hunter S. Thompson. He's a working class stiff who tells it like it is, without all that intellectual bullshit that passes for writing these days. He got tired of winning Pulitzer Prizes and working for the Gray Lady in the cittay and decided to get on back to his roots in Detroit, where his honest, hardscrabble family still lives. This book, then, is an attempt to get at the heart of what ails Detroit, the heart of A ...more
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A revealing look into the corruption and despondency of a once great city. It frightens me that this could be a precursor of a crippling trend in our country. Great narration by Eric Martin.
Todd N
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Bought this on the strength of a Fresh Air interview with the author and read it in one day.

[[[Aside: I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, about 50 miles south of Detroit. I was always vaguely terrified of the city, probably because several people told me that the city tends to explode into race riots from time to time. My wife and I spent a really fun (and race riot-free) weekend there two years ago doing some typical touristy things (visiting Motown, DIA, a jazz club, etc.), and I highly recommend visit
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I have rarely, if ever, read a book so gut wrenching on a personal level. Like many residents or former residents of beautiful Michigan, contacts with Detroit, its people and its problems, run in the background of my life. I must have arrived from the East at just the right moment or perhaps just the moment. The author dates the start of Detroit's demise to some 40 years back. I can't say it was sudden but it certainly was obvious that the downhill slide had begun. Cobo Hall, in its first incarn ...more
Mark Hartzer
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some people don't like Charlie LeDuff. I don't have any personal knowledge one way or the other, but I do know that he tried to make a difference, and for me, that counts for something.

His name was Johnnie Redding, and his body was found completely encased in ice with just his feet and ankles sticking out "like popsicle sticks". I had not heard of this story, so I actually Googled the story and Jesus, the photo is right there on the internet. He was found in an abandoned, rotting warehouse owne
Linda Robinson
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Topnotch reporting told from the personal view of a journalist who left town for the Big Apple and then returned to the D with his new family. LeDuff peels the veneer to reveal the schizophrenic core of the city: you love her and hate what's happening at the same time, and LeDuff's book is funny and excruciating both as well. Detroit grew up on the car business of the last midcentury, and then aged in the post-industrial world of financial decline. Is it all about the money? No, it's about the m ...more
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014, audio-book
First book of 2014 and that was a great way to kick off the new year.

I hate reading reviews of books before I read the book but it can be a necessary evil. In the reviews for this book I gleaned some of the criticism of LeDuff's writing and in the end a lot of turned out to be accurate. But, what some saw as negative aspects of his writing I found to be endearing.

Mind you that I heard the book through the filter of someone else's reading. The reader gave LeDuff a gruff, wizened tone that at ti
Bryan Alexander
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
This is a furious book, a snarling love song to a suffering people.

This is not one of those "please say nice things about Detroit" screeds. LeDuff focuses on horror, mayhem, dysfunction, corruption, and despair. Victories are rare and small, scored in the face of general decline.

Which is not to say _Detroit: An American Autopsy_ is not a pleasure to read. The prose is elegant, stripped down in a hurry, and focused on economically outlining key details. Characters appear vividly, either as one-ti
John Devlin
May 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
(2.8)A little too much filler from his life and the meanderings of his sojourn through the rusted out hulk that was Detroit.

People should read this and know that this is the paradigm of what happens when Progressive politics and years of race-baiting victimization crash headlong into government entitlements married to a 21st century that has steamrolled manufacturing.

The government isn't corrupt b/c that implies there's something clean and pure that can be found if the rust is chipped away. In f
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Charlie LeDuff is a writer, filmmaker and a multimedia reporter for The Detroit News. He is a former national correspondent for The New York Times.

He covered the war in Iraq, crossed the desert with a group of migrant Mexicans and worked inside a North Carolina slaughterhouse as part of The Times series “How Race Is Lived in America,” which was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for National Reportin

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