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The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

by Mark Binelli

Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9229-5
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Rolling Stone contributing editor Binelli (Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!, 2006) provides an engrossing chronicle of the decline (and possible rebirth?) of a major American city.

The author grew up just outside of Detroit, and while he appreciated much of his native city's cultural history, most notably the music, he realized at an early age that the city had many inherent problems—e.g., a crumbling infrastructure, a lousy economy and a justifiably horrible reputation throughout the country. Regardless, Detroit was Binelli’s hometown, and no matter where he lived throughout his adult life, he always kept tabs on the city's fortunes, most of which proved to be negative. Given his history, Binelli is the ideal writer for the task of examining the downfall of a city that has the potential to come back to life. “It’s undeniable that Detroit feels like a singular place,” writes the author, “and at the same time, just as Greenland might be called ground zero of the broader climate crisis, Detroit feels like ground zero for…what, exactly? The end of the American way of life? Or the beginning of something else?” Binelli describes the city through a series of essays, some personal, some about the people of Detroit and some about the history. The common thread is that the author believes there is a decent place beneath the surface, but the surface is so brutal that it takes a lot of digging to find it. Binelli is a charming writer, and his periodic humorous asides and innate good nature are a welcome contrast to the darker sections. Some may say that the book is problematic since it reads as a series of magazine articles, but many readers will find this a plus, as they can absorb the book in bite-sized chunks that can make reading about Detroit's urban blight more palatable.

An informative, often-heartbreaking portrait of a once-great American metropolis gone to hell.