Hot times in a raucous city.
Biographer and Washington Post associate editor Maraniss (Barack Obama: The Story, 2013, etc.) spent only his first six and a half years in Detroit, so he was surprised when he “choked up” after seeing a car commercial extolling the Motor City. That affection inspired this fast-paced, sprawling, copiously detailed look at 18 months—from 1962 to 1964—in the city’s past. During that time, big things happened in Detroit. Motown burst onto the music scene after the Motortown Revue left the city on a nationwide tour. Ford developed a new car, kept secret except from the prestigious J. Walter Thompson advertising agency; unveiled at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, the Mustang became an instant, bestselling hit. Detroit fought fiercely for the 1968 Olympics, but despite support from native son Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, and Governor George Romney, Detroit lost to Mexico City. Detroit was embroiled in the civil rights movement, as well, with Cavanagh and union head Walter Reuther among many leaders taking a strong stand for racial equality. Reuther even rounded up money to bail out demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, and he never wavered in his commitment to freedom and justice. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an early version of his “I have a dream” speech at the city’s much-publicized Walk to Freedom, in which Reuther, Cavanagh, and 100,000 others marched; it was, said one participant, “a model of peaceful protest and racial cooperation” during a time of national unrest. Although overstuffed with facts (for example, that Cavanagh “kept four extra suits, thirteen striped ties,” and abundant shirts in his office for a quick change), and sometimes breaching the city’s boundaries to become a history of the whole country, Maraniss’ brawny narrative evokes a city still “vibrantly alive” and striving for a renaissance.
An illuminating history of a golden era in a city desperately seeking to reclaim the glory.