An engaging reconstruction of Detroit’s financial crisis and the broader implications of its comeback for other American...



A chronicle of the infamous bankruptcy of the Motor City, from financial mismanagement to rebirth.

In retrospect, the headline-stealing bankruptcy of Detroit, the largest municipality to file in American history, seems both tragically inevitable and necessary. For decades, the automotive industry that defined the city had been shrinking and consolidating, putting pressure on the city’s finances to deal with growing expenses and a shortage of tax income. But that’s only a single example identified by USA Today journalist Bomey in a lengthy list of reasons that gets at the complexity and systemic nature of Detroit’s problems, including an overextension and overcommitment to debt service, pension payments, and retiree health care costs. The author, who was the lead reporter for the Detroit Free Press on the city’s bankruptcy, hints at the chain of events that led to Detroit’s ruin, but his focus is on the elected officials, bureaucrats, and financiers tasked with trying to rescue the city. Among them are the appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr and former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, whose embarrassing corruption scandal led to his conviction on racketeering charges following the end of his term in 2008, an event that can be read as the symbolic death knell of the city. As Bomey breaks down the numbers behind the city’s default, he provides eye-popping statistics that perfectly capture the near-apocalyptic level of duress. For instance, adjusted for inflation, the total value of private property in Detroit fell from $45.2 billion in 1958 to $9.6 billion in 2012. Though the book is well-paced and highly readable, the collapse of Detroit is not an undocumented subject, and there is little in this narrative that has not already been dissected at length. But it’s an important subject, since the tale of Detroit’s financial woes can serve as a case study on how other cities can deal with economic transition.

An engaging reconstruction of Detroit’s financial crisis and the broader implications of its comeback for other American cities.

Pub Date: April 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24891-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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