Detroit: An American Autopsy




Now when people talk about the failure of Detroit, they’re not talking about the Lions.


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.
With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark and the righteous indignation that only a native son can possess, journalist Charlie LeDuff sets out to uncover what has brought low this once vibrant city, his city. In doing so, he uncovers the deeply human drama of a city filled with some of the strongest—and strangest—people our country has to offer.
© 2013 by Charlie LeDuff


Detroit was once America’s richest city, but by the time Charlie LeDuff returned home to take a job with the Detroit news, it had become the nation’s poorest city. Crime, violence, lost work, political corruption and other issues had put Detroit on the decline since the 1950s.
LeDuff chronicles a tremendous amount of misfortune in this book. There is the story of The frozen man who was found in an elevator shaft encased in ice with only his feet sticking out. There is also the tragic death of Detroit firefighter Walter Harris, who died largely because the firefighters had been supplied with substandard equipment, if they were supplied at all.
You want political corruption? In the persons of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and former city councilwoman Monica Conyers you will feast on enough to satisfy the healthiest of appetites. Simply listing Kilpatrick’s discretions alone would be a difficult task for this reviewer. Yet that really only scratches the surface of political corruption and ineptitude that has plagued the municipality for decades. Nobody is spared being assigned some blame for what has been allowed to happen to Detroit including: politicians on every level, leaders of industry and citizens who have a lax attitude towards work. When it comes to the downfall of Detroit, there is no singular problem to blame but a perfect storm of trouble that goes back more than half a century.
The Detroit depicted in LeDuff’s book is the closest thing that America has to a third world country within its borders. The book sometimes reads like a post apocalyptic story of a once great city cast into ruin, and yet the most tragic part of all is that it is all too real.
LeDuff takes the reader from the newsroom and the courtroom, from the fire hall to abandoned buildings, and all points in between to bring you the real story of the fall of Detroit. Being a native son himself, LeDuff has a personal investment in the city, and the tragedy of Detroit is also the tragedy of his own family. It would have been impossible for LeDuff to tell the story of one without telling the story of the other. Even if he could pull such a thing off, it would not have the same impact. Mixing in stories from his own personal life helps ensure that the reader never forgets that the story of Detroit is still the story of Detroit’s citizens.
Detroit was once a great American city. It brought the world the automobile and mass production, among other innovations. LeDuff argues that as falls Detroit, so falls the rest of the country. When Detroit became the largest American municipality to file for bankruptcy in 2013, one of the first questions to be asked was which city or state might be next? There are many troubling events recounted in ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy,’ but for most Americans that might be the most difficult pill to swallow.


Charlie LeDuff is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who formerly worked at the New York Times before returning home to work for the Detroit News. LeDuff mixes his own reporting on the happenings in Detroit with tales from the city’s history, as well as his own family life going back to his childhood and several generations prior to his birth.
‘Detroit: An American Autopsy’ is part history lesson, part cautionary tale and part autobiographical story. I appreciate that as I read the book I have no trouble distinguishing between what LeDuff is reporting as fact and what he and his interview subjects offer as opinion. That’s not always true in books that deal with historical and political issues.


Martin does a great job throughout the track. Whether he is speaking in an educated style or dropping a lot of ghetto slang, it always comes off as believable. He captures everything from anger to stoned in his performance. There’s not a lot of joy in his performance because there’s not a lot of joy in the book.
There are really only a few types of performances a narrator can give when it comes down to it. They can be memorably good, memorably bad or completely forgettable. Most books I listen to, even if I enjoy the narration as I am listening, I don’t remember after a few days. I’ll remember Martin’s performance for quite some time and in a very good way.


The track sounds great. The manuscript is heard clean and clear with no glitches detected on the track. There are no sound effects or music cues to be found and the audio chapter stops are in the logical places.


If you read ‘Detroit: An American Autopsy,’ even through all of the violence, crime, corruption and decay there is still hope to be found. There are decent, hard working people in Detroit. There are also people in Detroit who have been so disadvantaged that their potential never has a chance to be fully realized.
I don’t know what the future is for Detroit. I did find myself hoping that somehow the city would be able to right the ship even though such a task might take decades. Detroit is hardly the only city in America that is facing serious problems such as the ones described in this book, but Detroit did get there first. If Detroit can somehow bounce back from it all and thrive again, then that would demonstrate that it is never hopeless no matter how sour the predictions.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Score
Detroit: An American Autopsy Charlie LeDuff Eric Martin HighBridge Company Biography and Memoirs 05/21/2013 7 hours, 21 minutes 8.75/10


A copy of ‘DETROIT: AN AMERICAN AUTOPSY’ was purchased from Downpour for review.

2 thoughts on “Detroit: An American Autopsy

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