Overview (No Spoilers): Having been born and raised in remote, rural Michigan, I’m proud of my home state, through and through. This pride does not exclude often mocked locations such as Detroit, Saginaw or Flint. Therefore, I always enjoy picking up a book, especially about Detroit and the people that helped shape the city during its formative years and the subsequent, well documented collapse. In Detroit, Martelle has written a detailed biography of the city in which he has chosen to sort through the myriad of events comprising the area’s history to only highlight the occurrences he believes truly put the city on the course to present day. The early history is fascinating and I could recall many of the stories from my elementary Michigan history class, however I was amused to find out majority of those tales were often severely edited to a G rating for the classroom. Also, having really only explored Detroit during the random concert or ballgame, I am unfamiliar with many of the streets or neighborhoods I probably should at least be acquainted with having lived in Michigan my whole life. That being said, I probably did not fully appreciate the effort Martelle went into detailing the history, down to the family or individuals that owned the original plots, of iconic neighborhoods and roads, such as Brush Park.
My two biggest takeaways from reading this book were:
- Henry Ford is not the hero that is ingrained in every Michigander from childhood. He had a brutal spy force that would enter people’s home and lives, as well as a ruthless security force that would beat and even kill some union sympathizers. Also, during the Great Depression, he refused to donate to services helping the people he had laid off from his factories. Last, but not least his anti-Semitic viewpoints.
- I feel as though every Labor Day I hear more and more grumbling about how it is a silly, waste of a holiday. Through Detroit, I finally had a realization regarding the situations that workers faced prior to Unions and the battle they waged, risking harm to themselves and hunger for their families to gain respect for the worker. How have those lessons, their sacrifices, and the history behind this seemingly meaningless holiday have fallen to the wayside?
Overall, Detroit was a well thought out, enlightening book on the rather tumultuous history of the city, however I was surprised that Martelle did not delve more into the corruption of the modern politics. A similar book, with an overall darker aura by Charlie LeDuff, focused heavily, due to his personal interactions with the main players, on the modern corruption, which was most prevalent on the political platform.