The best books about Detroit

8 authors have picked their favorite books about Detroit and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Motor City Green: A Century of Landscapes and Environmentalism in Detroit

Motor City Green: A Century of Landscapes and Environmentalism in Detroit

By Joseph Stanhope Cialdella,

Why this book?

Nature takes on different meanings in the landscape of the post-industrial city. On a city block in the middle of a shrinking city, the return of green space can signify abandonment, disinvestment, and decay instead of healing, flourishing, or balance. Cialdella brings much needed nuance and historical context to the place of nature in postindustrial Detroit, providing a wider range of stories about the ways in which gardens and green, from the wide expanse of Belle Isle to urban potato patches and backyard sunflowers, have helped connect communities to the city and each other. Nature in the city doesn’t replace…

From the list:

The best books on nature in the city

Book cover of Whiskey River

Whiskey River

By Loren D. Estleman,

Why this book?

Loren Estleman is the quintessential Detroit novelist, with dozens of books under his belt set in the Motor City. The best of the bunch is Whiskey River, part of his Detroit Seven, which includes King of the Corner (another of my faves).

Whiskey River tells the story of reporter Connie Minor in 1928 Detroit, chasing a story that takes him through Detroit’s underworld of gangsters, bootleggers, crooked cops, and cold as ice criminals. This well-researched book includes the who’s who of Detroit Prohibition-era gangsters, like the Purple Gang, the Oakland Sugar House Mob, and the Machines. The question for…

From the list:

The best American historical crime novels

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

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

By Thomas J. Sugrue,

Why this book?

How and when did all this start? Historian Thomas Sugrue shows that the peak of industrial employment in cities such as Detroit, the focus of this book, occurred in the 1940s. Then as hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs were lost in Detroit (and millions elsewhere in the US), the position of the urban working class deteriorated. This decline was an important source of the “urban crisis” that started in the 1960s.

From the list:

The best books on what has happened to the American working class

Book cover of Boys Come First

Boys Come First

By Aaron Foley,

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.

From the list:

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

Book cover of We Hope for Better Things

We Hope for Better Things

By Erin Bartels,

Why this book?

A powerful, riveting, and unputdownable tale of three women from different eras (Civil War to present) that frames the issue of race relations within the context of family relationships, making the subject immensely relatable and deeply touching. Bartels spins this masterful tale with a deft touch and a caring heart to create a stunning debut. Because the characters were so vivid and the emotions so real, this book opened my eyes in new ways to an issue that remains a hot button in today’s society.

From the list:

The best compelling, character-rich reads without sex or swearing

Book cover of Abby Cooper: Psychic Eye

Abby Cooper: Psychic Eye

By Victoria Laurie,

Why this book?

 I love psychics especially when they wear detective hats and solve cases with their intuitive abilities. The manner in which they use symbolism to decode the meaning of their visions and premonitions fascinates as well as intrigues me.

Here the main protagonist Abby Cooper runs a business based on her psychic abilities and advises her clients on their future choices regarding their love life, career, financial matters, and sometimes even on finding their path in life. 

The manner in which Abby receives information from her spirit guides and studies auras to unravel clues kept me engaged all throughout the story.…

From the list:

The best paranormal novels in a myriad of exciting flavours

Book cover of Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism

Detroit's Cold War: The Origins of Postwar Conservatism

By Colleen Doody,

Why this book?

I like this book because it forces us to rethink what the Cold War really was. The book identifies key figures in anti-communist crusades in post-World War II Detroit: workers, white homeowners, city officials, Catholics, and manufacturing executives, and argues that the core elements of their “anticommunism” were not fears of Soviet incursion, but sociocultural tensions at home that derived from drastic changes in wartime and postwar Detroit, which observed a sudden influx of African Americans, Southern whites, and immigrants. 

Thus, the book argues that Cold War Detroit’s “anticommunism” was not a new development in the postwar era, but a…

From the list:

The best books to reconsider what the Cold War really was

Book cover of Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination

Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination

By Herb Boyd,

Why this book?

An Alabama native who moved to Detroit as a young child, renowned Black press reporter Herb Boyd paints a lively, knowing portrait of the world that his fellow Southern migrants and their offspring made in his hometown. The sweeping study examines the role that Blacks played in shaping the American car industry and autoworkers union, and fleshes out the backstories of legends who were raised or came of age in Detroit and went on to transform our national culture, from Malcolm X and Aretha Franklin to record mogul Barry Gordy and the young local musicians who became the superstars of…
From the list:

The best books on the great Black migration

Book cover of Detroit: An American Autopsy

Detroit: An American Autopsy

By Charlie LeDuff,

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.

From the list:

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

Book cover of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution

Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution

By Dan Georgakas, Marvin Surkin,

Why this book?

The name “Detroit” too often conjures images of poverty-porn: gorgeously crumbling buildings, post-apocalyptic urban decay, lost souls wandering cracked streets. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying shatters this image with unfettered energy. It chronicles the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the auto plants of the 1960s-1970s, a refreshing reminder of the power of intersectional labor organizing; a raw look at the racism of the mainstream labor movement; and a very human chronicle of the struggles and flaws of courageous everyday workers at this critical time and place in history.
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The best books about labour and workers fighting against all odds

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