The best books about why Detroit is the most interesting city in the US

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Thomas J. Sugrue

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

Why 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.


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

By Grace Lee Boggs, Scott Kurashige

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

Why 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.


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Boys Come First

By Aaron Foley

Book cover of Boys Come First

Why 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.


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Detroit: An American Autopsy

By Charlie LeDuff

Book cover of Detroit: An American Autopsy

Why 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.


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Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe

By Zig Zag Claybourne

Book cover of Afro Puffs Are the Antennae of the Universe

Why 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.


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