My favorite books about why Detroit is the most interesting city in the US

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve lived in Detroit for nearly 15 years, where I built my house with my own two hands out of the shell of one I purchased for $500. A longtime journalist, I grew up in a small town in the countryside of Michigan. When I moved to Detroit after college people told me I was throwing my life away, but I looked at it as a moral decision, as “staying home” when it seemed like most other people were leaving. I’m glad I did—it offered me a look into a world more strange and beautiful than I could have imagined, potentially even a vision into a brave new future. I hope this world comes across in A $500 House in Detroit, and I hope we can make it last. 

I wrote...

A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

By Drew Philp,

Book cover of A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

What is my book about?

A $500 House in Detroit is a raw and earnest account of rebuilding everything but the frame of an abandoned house, nail by nail and room by room. But it’s also a tale of a young man finding his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation. We witness his concept of Detroit shift, expand, and evolve as his plan to save the city gives way to a life forged from political meaning, personal connection, and collective purpose. As he assimilates into the community of Detroiters around him, Philp guides readers through the city’s vibrant history and engages in urgent conversations about gentrification, racial tensions, and class warfare. “Philp is a great storyteller.” (Booklist)

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

Drew Philp Why did I love this book?

While somewhat dry and academic, this book is essential to understanding how Detroit ended up as “Murder City” and the butt of late night jokes. This book is practically handed out with little packets of Tide when moving into the city for anyone who wants to understand how we may overcome, and not repeat, the mistakes of the past.

Many of the insights drawn from my work—and others on this list—have roots in this research, and it’s indispensable for understanding not just Detroit's history, but the American history of cities. It’s well worth the effort.

By Thomas J. Sugrue,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Origins of the Urban Crisis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once America's "arsenal of democracy," Detroit is now the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of America's racial and economic inequalities, Thomas Sugrue asks why Detroit and other industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. He challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decline is the product of the social programs and racial fissures of the 1960s. Weaving together the history of workplaces, unions, civil rights groups, political organizations, and real estate agencies, Sugrue finds the roots of today's urban poverty in a hidden history of racial violence, discrimination, and deindustrialization that reshaped the American…

Book cover of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Drew Philp Why did I love this book?

This book looks toward the future. A friend, leader, and hero to many in Detroit including myself, Grace Lee Boggs is one of the most important philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries. However, this book is far from the stuffy philosophy you might remember from PHYL 101. Rather, it’s a road map to a better, brighter future, and a new way to live.

A resident of Detroit for almost 80 years, Boggs once wrote, “The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put.” Her thinking and activism underlie almost anything truly transformational happening in Detroit today, and this book will leave you with more hope than a dog looking at the thanksgiving dinner table.

By Grace Lee Boggs, Scott Kurashige,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Next American Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A world dominated by America and driven by cheap oil, easy credit, and conspicuous consumption is unraveling before our eyes. In this powerful, deeply humanistic book, Grace Lee Boggs, a legendary figure in the struggle for justice in America, shrewdly assesses the current crisis - political, economical, and environmental - and shows how to create the radical social change we need to confront new realities. A vibrant, inspirational force, Boggs has participated in all of the twentieth century's major social movements - for civil rights, women's rights, workers' rights, and more. She draws from seven decades of activist experience, and…

Book cover of Boys Come First

Drew Philp Why did I love this book?

Perhaps from the outside Detroit might look like a humorless place. A native of the city, Foley shows us just how untrue that is. Boys follows three Black gay millennial men looking for love, friendship, and professional success in the Motor City, with a narrative both hilarious and touching.

Published by Belt Publishing, a relatively new publisher focusing on the Rust Belt, Boys gives readers an inside view of the city and Black culture that can be radically different from the ones often portrayed in the media. This book can take you to a world much more beautiful and strange.

By Aaron Foley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boys Come First as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This hilarious, touching debut novel by Aaron Foley, author of How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass, follows three Black gay millennial men looking for love, friendship, and professional success in the Motor City. 

Suddenly jobless and single after a devastating layoff and a breakup with his cheating ex, advertising copywriter Dominick Gibson flees his life in Hell's Kitchen to try and get back on track in his hometown of Detroit. He’s got one objective — exit the shallow dating pool ASAP and get married by thirty-five — and the deadline’s approaching fast.

Meanwhile, Dom's best friend, Troy…

Book cover of Detroit: An American Autopsy

Drew Philp Why did I love this book?

Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that LeDuff is a tremendously charismatic writer. A Pulitzer Prize winner, a breathtaking reporter, and a denizen of Detroit for decades, this is one of the most compellingly written books on Detroit ever.

This book has a Mustang eight-cylinder engine on it, and I hoovered this up over just a couple of hours. If you want a barn-burning page-turner of a tale, showcasing Detroit as its most broken and beautiful, this is the one for you.

By Charlie LeDuff,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Detroit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An explosive expose of America's lost prosperity by Pulitzer Prize -winning journalist Charlie LeDuff

"One cannot read Mr. LeDuff's amalgam of memoir and reportage and not be shaken by the cold eye he casts on hard truths . . . A little gonzo, a little gumshoe, some gawker, some good-Samaritan-it is hard to ignore reporting like Mr. LeDuff's." -The Wall Street Journal

"Pultizer-Prize-winning journalist LeDuff . . . writes with honesty and compassion about a city that's destroying itself-and breaking his heart." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A book full of both literary grace and hard-won world-weariness." -Kirkus

Back in his…

Book cover of Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe

Drew Philp Why did I love this book?

Do you want a sense of the flavor of Detroit? To know what it sounds like, what it smells like, what it tastes like in all of its deliciousness and funk? Would you like to rub Detroit all over yourself? This is a book that comes with a soundtrack, and it can give you all of those things and more.

A native Detroiter, a friend of mine, and a great friend to the writing community as a whole in the Motor City, Zig has been writing speculative fiction for decades, and this is his latest. While not explicitly about Detroit—the book takes place on a spaceship—I don’t think you can get any closer to the real soul of the place than this.

By Zig Zag Claybourne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No one has time for your BS...but Captain Desiree Quicho and crew of utter badasses surely don't. Got a universe to save. Again. Commandeer one piece of out-of-this-world tech and suddenly you have an evil billionaire and a corporate queenpin on your ass, factions scrabbling at the power grab to end all power grabs, and an ultimate AI bent on a rampage of healing.


All a captain wanted was a little chill time, a few tunes, and quality barbecue.


Woe to those blocking her groove.


Four women; One machine goddess; a Hellbilly, Saharan elves, the baddest Pacific Octopus this side…

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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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