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Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  695 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Detroit, mid-1930s: In a city abuzz over its unrivaled sports success, gun-loving baseball fan Dayton Dean became ensnared in the nefarious and deadly Black Legion. The secretive, Klan-like group was executing a wicked plan of terror, murdering enemies, flogging associates, and contemplating armed rebellion. The Legion boasted tens of thousands of members across the Midwes ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published June 1st 2016 by Lyons Press
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Hank Greenberg is one of my all time favorite non Cubs baseball players, so when I noticed a book featuring the 1930s era Detroit Tigers at my library, I was intrigued. Detroit area writer Tom Stanton had heard older family members mention a part terrorist group part gangster network based near Detroit during the same era, yet had heard nothing about the group growing up or in school. The presence of this group during America’s low point in history moved him to investigate. The fact that they op ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: baseball
Terror in the City of Champions is an excellent piece of historical/journalistic investigation. It is set in Detroit in the period of 1933-1936. Detroit was an amazing contrast in wealth and poverty. This is a city that came out of the Great Depression in better economic shape than perhaps any other city in the U.S. However the rapid change in demographics, recent immigration and the increased unemployment created a city ripe for all kinds of class and racial problems.

The primary thread in the
Apr 06, 2016 rated it liked it
The mid-1930s were banner years for the city of Detroit’s unrivaled sports scene. In late 1934, the Tigers won the pennant. Just seven months later, the Red Wings took home the Stanley Cup and the Lions sat atop the National Football League. And it wasn’t just team sports that dominated. Hometown hero Joe Louis had his sights set on his boxing’s crown.

All this success managed to awaken the city from a depression-induced slumber. However, beneath all the championships and celebration, an undergro
Jan 07, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Well this was disappointing. This reads like a series of vignettes - jumping from the Tigers (lengthy descriptions of games in some instances), the Black Legion, the Lions, Red Wings, Joe Louis and back around again. It reads like a "day in the life" (or 2 year period in the life in this case) of the city of Detroit. Which means it's not very satisfying depending on what you're interested in. The crime reader and Detroit Tigers fan in me was largely bored. The author should have picked one subje ...more
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Lordy, what a hot mess of a book.
You'd think from its title that this book would be about a secret society in which many Detroit baseball players were active. Nope. Or even a murder related to Detroit baseball. Nope.
This book goes back and forth between very detailed Detroit Tiger games, less detailed Joe Louis fights, some Red Wings hockey, Lions football gets mentioned AND a KKK style gang (the Black Legion) PLUS local politics of the metro Detroit area. Way too much ground to attempt to cov
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-Era Detroit by Tom Stanton is a thrilling and terrifying read.

Stanton begins his narrative in 1933 as Frank Navin signs Mickey Cochrane in hope that his Tigers would finally win a championship under his watch. At the same time a series of unsolved murders in the Detroit area were ruled suicides. Stanton weaves the narrative thread of winning teams and murderous mayhem through 1936 when the Black Leg
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
This book just didn't click for me. I thought the narrative flow was kind of confusing, especially when jumping between subjects. I also thought that it was hard to keep track of people. It would have been easier to follow and more engrossing if Stanton had picked just a few people and told their stories and left the others out.

**I received this copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
Margaret Sankey
Feb 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Erik Larson-style strikes again! Stanton attempts to intertwine two stories--the 1933 Detroit Tigers, with the rise and fall of a particularly virulent Klan variant, the Black Legion. This is popular history of the this happened and then this happened and then some other stuff happened, with the cast of hundreds introduced every time with full biographies and lacking any real analysis. Detroit in the 1930s is fascinating, but not frog marched to the two narratives Stanton wants to tell.
Anup Sinha
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an outstanding book and right up my alley as a huge Detroit sports fan and as one who is also interested in the city's history. Tom Stanton is also in both categories, but to the extreme, and he is also an excellent, professional writer. The research is extraordinary, I don't know how he got so much detail about the Black Legion and their activities.

I really felt like I was in the 1930s Detroit and I enjoyed driving past many of the same landmarks 85 years later while reading this book.
Edwin Howard
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
TERROR IN THE CITY OF CHAMPIONS by Tom Stanton recounts Detroit as the city of champions, with three major sports (baseball, football and hockey) having championships in 1935, while in the shadows of the city during the same time, a ruthless, violent organization know as the Black Legion, was thriving and terrorizing the entire North Michigan region.
As a Detroit Tigers fan myself, I'll admit a special draw this book and perhaps I will also carry a bit of a bias in how much I enjoyed this book.
Sean Kottke
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, michigan-books
**I received a digital copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Tom Stanton's latest is a perfect complement to his canon of baseball journalism and Detroit tales. Launching from a brief slice of the 1930s when all of Detroit's professional sports teams - as well as Joe Louis in the boxing ring - pursued world championships, the book reads like a non-fiction Motor City Ragtime as it presents the intertwining lives of famous, infamous and everyday Michiganders at a pivotal moment in h
Christopher Saunders
Terror in the City of Champions is one of those bifurcated Erik Larson-style popular histories that tries using parallel storylines to capture an historical era. In this case it's Depression-era Detroit, with Stanton (a veteran sportswriter) comparing the city's sports successes in that era with the dark reign of the Black Legion, a KKK splinter group who terrorized immigrants, Jews, Catholics, blacks and leftists in 1930s Michigan. It's an odd juxtaposition of subjects, not least because they i ...more
Michael Ferguson
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very well-written book. Stanton is an obviously talented writer on a technical level, and nearly all of the strings of the plot are presented in a manner which demands interest. The central complaint among most reviewers, that the narrative is too multifaceted and fast-paced to be grasped, is short-sighted and mostly unfounded. Though Stanton does present literally dozens of characters in the various plotlines, he does so in order to establish wider themes. The point is not for the reader to rem ...more
Tom Gase
Sep 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a decent book by Tom Stanton but at times it felt like two completely different stories that was kind of forced into being one. On one hand you have Stanton's great writing and research on the 1934-1936 Detroit Tigers, along with info on boxer Joe Louis, the 1935 Detroit Red Wings and 1935 Detroit Lions. Don't let the book title fool you though, Stanton spends a great deal of this book discussing the Tigers and not much time dedicated to the other Detroit teams. When he isn't discussing ...more
Aaron Sinner
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: baseball
2016 CASEY Award nominee
2017 Seymour Medal finalist
NPR’s "2016 Great Reads"

Briefly: Compelling history

Terror in the City of Champions offers a tour of major events in mid-1930s Detroit, focusing on the success of its sports icons and on the unmasking of a secret society. Both storylines make for compelling, page-turning reading. Unfortunately, the two storylines are almost entirely unrelated, so that the book reads as two separate narratives told in parallel. Despite some tonal suggestions that
Steve Rice
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good historical book on when the Black Legion grew to influence in Detroit in the mid 30’s. The book flips back and forth between the Tigers/Red Wings/Lions championship season of 1935 and the growth and influence of the Legion. Although I’m a Detroit sports fan, I found the narrative on the Legion to be more compelling.
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating story especially if you're from Detroit and have interests in history, sports - particularly the Detroit Tigers - and insane murders by the terrorist group the Black Legion. I enjoyed the story following along both stories as they progressed along the same timeline - one exciting and one truly frightening. ...more
Shay Caroline
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Imagine an America just starting to right itself after an economic calamity. Imagine a changing America where racial and religious resentment lead to a sometimes polarized society, whipped up further by demagogues and religious media stars. Imagine "a low type of mentality, men easily incited by mob psychology, who have taken a silly pledge and gone through a crazy ritual apparently created by a fanatic who seeks power."

Imagine, too, politicians and police who often place political gain or pers
Jill Hutchinson
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Being a history buff and a sports fan made me grab this book from the library shelf and I was not disappointed. I loved it........the style is reminiscent of that of Erik Larson, concentrating on two disparate subjects in one book and making it work. It is all tied together by Detroit, a once thriving city that was crushed by the Great Depression and was struggling to survive. Baseball was a positive force for the people of the city who were hoping for a championship or at least a winning season ...more
Casey Wheeler
I received a free Kindle copy of the book courtesy of Net Galley and Rowan Littlefield, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon and my review blog. I also posted it on my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

I requested a copy of this book as I have an keen interest in baseball and the description sounded fascinating. This is the first book by Tom Stanton that I have read.

The subtitle of the book "Murder, Baseball and
Chris Dean
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book on an otherwise forgotten time in the history of Detroit. The emphasis is mainly on the Black Legion while the city's sports developments serving as a backdrop. While the contrasts show the differences in human nature during the Depression, the lures of the Black Legion and what made them a force can be seen as a cautionary tale for modern times. Highly recommended, another A+ work from Stanton. ...more
Brad Hodges
I grew up in Michigan, as did my dad, my mom, and both sets of grandparents either were born there or spent many years there. Yet I'd never heard of the Black Legion, a kind of Klan knock-off, that murdered several people during the 1930s in the Detroit area. Tom Stanton writes about them in Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression Era Detroit.

I did know about the Detroit Tigers of the '30s, who won two pennants and one world championship,
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Though Stanton is a very good writer and a stellar historian of the Detroit Tigers, the plot lines of this book seemed to be only parallel stories and not connected to one another. It's an interesting period in Detroit's history, one I was unaware of, and the parallel stories each pulled me along, but I kept looking for connections that really weren't there. ...more
May 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed the history and the suspense of this true story. Pretty incredible. I love the way this author writes.
Zackery Finn
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Enjoyed learning more history about my fair city of Detroit, but would have preferred more attention and greater depth on the Black Legion and far less (ideally no) talk about sports.
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
As I was a Michigan resident during my formative years through university, this book had an added dollop of interest to my normal inclination to things historical, especially to areas I knew nothing about.

And those areas? the two main threads of this book - the Detroit sports teams (plus Joe Louis - boxer) of 1934-5 and their winning ways and the Black Legion - a sort of protestant white nationalist terror group somewhat akin to the Ku Klux Klan that was centered in the midwest.

I have to admit t
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This non-fiction book was chosen for my book club book. It is not something I would have chosen. However, I really was so intrigued by it and learned so much about the local history of Detroit and really within our country. (I live in Midland, MI, about 2 hr north of Detroit). There is a lot of name/place dropping and the book is very well researched. However, because of all the name dropping, I almost wish they would have indexed all the people. (Not quite Game of Thrones list, but extensive). ...more
In the 1930's thousands of white men across Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana joined the Black Legion, a secret vigilante terrorist group of white supremacists. They were highly active in Michigan, and it is widely speculated that there were hundreds of members in positions of influence within government, law enforcement, and businesses like the Ford Motor Company.
Author Tom Stanton does an incredibly detailed look at the history of this group, detailing their crimes and suspected crimes. I
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Quite an interesting read. Stanton does a terrific job in writing about the professional sports teams of the mid-1930's Detroit and paralleling it against an underlying criminal element that plagued the City and surrounding area during the same period.

I was not familiar with the Black Legion prior to reading this book and was taken aback once learning about it. At first I thought this was a murder mystery with the Detroit sports teams, mostly the Tigers, as a backdrop but quickly realized that
Jeff Koslowski
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
If you like the mid-1930's Detroit Tigers, it's a solid book but the issue I had was that this was to be about Detroit as the "City of Champions." The Red Wings and Lions, both champions during the same season, received almost two chapters while the Tigers received about half the entire book. I know baseball is the author's strength but if you're going to include the City of Champions in the title, there should be a little more balance.

The other issue I had with the balance was in reference to
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Dear Readers:

I feel fortunate to have been writing professionally since age 18, beginning back in the final year of Jimmy Carter's presidency, when I sported a poorly executed, Peter Frampton-inspired perm. Decades on, my hair is gone, but writing remains central to my life. I've been a reporter, editor, publisher and, more recently, an author and journalism professor (Go University of Detroit Me

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“Within a six-month period in 1935 and 1936, the Tigers, Red Wings, and Lions all captured titles as Detroit’s own Joe Louis reigned as boxing’s uncrowned champion. Detroit remains the only city to score the trifecta of a World Series, a Stanley Cup, and an NFL championship in one season.” 0 likes
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