Detroit Non-Fiction Books You Need to Read

Work your way through this list, and you’re on your way to being a Detroit scholar. We tried to make it diverse for the various types of readers that are out there. Please add your suggestions for additions or modifications to this list.. as we’re always poking around for the next great Detroit book too.

Rusty Young

Here are some recommended books in the Southfield Public Library catalog with commentary by the article’s writer. If you don’t see a copy available, contact a librarian to place an item on hold for you!

Detroit City is the Place to Be
Binelli, Mark
DetroitCityisplacetobeMark Binelli grew up in the Detroit area and returned to his native city to take a good look at what has been going on. Once the penultimate example of the American Dream, Binelli finds Detroit as an urban calamity. He also finds a landscape of renewal and a national laboratory for other cities across the country. From urban planning, to urban farming, to land speculators Binelli finds a certain push towards the future in the Motor City. The beat of the book is realistic and Binelli drums out an accurate picture. This is a city with an emerging economy, a vibrant downtown, but its also a place that is ruined by scrappers and criminals every night. This is a must read for anyone curious about Detroit.
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Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insiders Guide to Detroit
Ed. Linn, Andy
For anyone who enjoys The Motor City and all the strange environs within, this is the book for you. Every time you think you have seen it all this book will help you reveal a part of the city and information about it that will leave you hungry for more. We keep it in the car and consult it routinely when we find ourselves in a lesser known corner of the city and looking for something. This is a must have coffee table book, conversation starter or bathroom reader. If you got multiple copies, we’re pretty sure they wouldn’t mind. It was written by a slew of authors. It will help you discover Detroit in unimaginable ways. You can even find Tom Selleck’s childhood home.
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Detroit: An American Autopsy
LeDuff, Charlie
No list discussing Detroit books would be nearly complete without including Leduff’s powerful book. At times a bit sensational, but always candid. It is written in the first person and follows Leduff as he navigates the streets of Detroit as a reporter tracking all the seemingly unbelievable things happening in the news cycle. It is also a memoir. LeDuff returned to the Motor City after stints in New York and Los Angeles. His return to middle America shows us a city that has slipped far beyond many people’s imaginations. He also lets us peer into his family’s history and the toll that Detroit has exacted upon them. It is direct and brash, just like LeDuff. We highly encourage you to read it.
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The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit
Sugrue, Thomas J.
One of the most fundamental reads in the pantheon of Detroit literature. If you wonder how Detroit become the way it is, this is a great place to begin. Detroit since the late 1960’s has been in a tailspin in many ways, and for the most part has become the symbol for the modern American urban crisis. Sugrue takes the reader on a journey through Detroit’s rise and fall, using lesser-known approaches to show how changes in the urban economy, labor market and class segregation have shaped the landscape we see today. It is a tale of de-industrialization, urban poverty, and African American history. It is provocative and scintillating if you are interested in the city of Detroit.
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Forgotten Landmarks of Detroit
Austin, Dan
At one point in time Detroit was the fourth largest city in the country. Streets were bustling and the buildings built during that time were world class. Many of these beautiful and intricate architectural works of art have since fallen to ruin. Dan Austin’s book pulls readers into a forgotten city, a city with the world on its shoulders. It is easy to drive around the Motor City today and see nothing but decay, but Austin reminds us that if we look a little bit harder, push back some of the dust, there is an ornate and fascinating city right below the surface. Many of the buildings are gone, but many remain. This is another coffee table book and also one that serves as a companion for anyone who wishes to explore Detroit’s architectural history.
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Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City
Gallagher, John
If Detroit sits back and let’s the undertow of current trends take it away, the future looks bleak. What about preparing for a smaller, sustainable and different city for the future? John Gallagher, a local Detroit Free Press writer and champion for Detroit’s future helps paint a more reasonable and healthy Detroit in the future if we take some steps now. Gallagher also wrote “Revolution Detroit: Strategies for Urban Reinvention” which continues on with many of the ideas in his first book, while introducing some new ones. Anyone who considers themselves knowledgeable about Detroit should have these two books on their shelves. They are straightforward, insightful and most importantly easy to grasp.
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Detroit: A Biography
Martelle, Scott
Lest we forget, Detroit is really old. It was settled by the French before the United States existed. This was for a time was the Wild West. Infrastructural developments opened the Great Lake region up to vast connectivity with the east coast and Detroit became and important linchpin in the growth of the region. Michigan with it’s bounty of natural resources became vitally important to the nation, and Detroit was it’s commercial hub. We all know what happened next, The industrial revolution, the rise of the auto industry and the complex dismantling of Detroit. Martelle’s book provides a fact based, non-opinionated look into Detroit history, its rise and fall, and what we see today. For anyone who wants a simple, and unbiased take on Detroit history, this is a good place to go.
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