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Getting A Read On Detroit

I'm glad we've got the Detroit Blog to debate about the issues and people that impact this city, but if someone wants to truly understand Detroit, I think we'd all agree that he or she is going to have to do a whole lot more reading than this.

So let me ask: What books would you recommend to someone who was trying to get a grasp on Detroit, both as it was and as it is now? What books do you think help sum up who we are, how we got this way and where we're headed?

Unlike my Motown Records request, this one's a lot more serious and a lot more wide open, so feel free to list as many as you'd like, from any genre, any year, any publishing house, any author. And maybe tell why you think those particular works are valuble. Any Detroit piece is up for mention, be it fiction or non-fiction, from Thomas Sugrue to Elmore Leonard.

You don't even have to necessarily "like" the book to think it's important. All I really want you to do is share.

Here then, in no particular order, are a few of mine:

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue — One of the most definitive books ever written on life and politics in the city after WWII.

Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, by Dan Georgakas and Marvin SurkinThe story of the Detroit-based Dodge Revolutionary  Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary workers. An incredible piece about race and organized labor here.

Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age, by Kevin BoyleA good look back on the historic case of Dr. Ossian Sweet.

The Algiers Motel Incident, by John Hersey and Thomas J. SugrueTo keep it real with you, I haven't even seen this book since college, but its recollection of one of the most infamous instances of law-enforcement brutality in Detroit is not easily forgotten.

Devil's Night: And Other True Tales From Detroit, by Zev Chafets Not really one of my personal favorites as it seems way too over-the-top in some places. But still important? No doubt.

The Detroit Almanac: 300 Years of Life in the Motor City, by Peter Gavrilovich and Bill McGrawJust what the title suggests: Probably the most exhaustive look at Detroit ever written. And done by two of the city's finer journalists, to boot.

American Odyssey, by Robert E. ConotAnother excellent, comprehensive study of Detroit and, in a larger sense, the meaning of the American city. Conot put this together after sitting on the Kerner Commission and being dissatisfied with its conclusions.

Land of Opportunity: One Family's Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack, by William M. Adler — An awesome, frighteningly detailed look at the history of the once-infamous Chambers Brothers drug organization. Since I grew up in the very same neighborhood where most of this takes place, I can safely say Adler's take on how crack, as well as Reagan-omics and recession, decimated Detroit (even as drugs were turning young pushers in millionaires -- and premature corpses) is deadly accurate.

Whoreson: The Story of A Ghetto Pimp, by Donald Goines — Raw, profane and real, Goines' works delved into some of the worst aspects of urban life in Detroit in the 1970s. Though labeled fiction, almost all of his stories were taken from either his own troubled life or those of people around him. The semi-autobiographical Whoreson makes my list because it is maybe his most powerful, but I'd suggest you check out his other 16 books, too.

Dangerous Society, by Carl S. TaylorI've already said it: Carl S. Taylor is one of the most important sociologists in the nation -- and probably the most important in Detroit. Dangerous Society serves as my Exhibit A.

YBI: The Autobiography of Butch Jones, by Butch Jones The self-published life story of one of the most feared, focused and successful crimelords in Detroit since Abe Bernstein and the Purple Gang. Jones and his highly organized group of underage pushers, known as Young Boys Inc., not only changed the landscape of Detroit, but also helped usher in the "crack era" of the '80s and early '90s.

American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker's Notebook, by James Boggs — The late husband of noted Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs, James Boggs was one of the most important thinkers in the history of organized labor, here or anywhere else. And this book, with its razor-sharp critical analyses of race, labor and capitalism, underscores why.

Like I said, these are just some of the books I think are worth reading to learn about the D. What would you recommend?

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