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Once in a Great City
Cover of Once in a Great City
Once in a Great City
Why Detroit Mattered
“A fascinating political, racial, economic, and cultural tapestry” (Detroit Free Press), a tour de force from David Maraniss about the quintessential American city at the top of its game: Detroit in 1963.
Detroit in 1963 is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the incredible Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; car salesman Lee Iacocca; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before. Yet the shadows of collapse were evident even then.

“Elegiac and richly detailed” (The New York Times), in Once in a Great City David Maraniss shows that before the devastating riot, before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight; before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse, one could see the signs of a city’s ruin. Detroit at its peak was threatened by its own design. It was being abandoned by the new world economy and by the transfer of American prosperity to the information and service industries. In 1963, as Maraniss captures it with power and affection, Detroit summed up America’s path to prosperity and jazz that was already past history. “Maraniss has written a book about the fall of Detroit, and done it, ingeniously, by writing about Detroit at its height….An encyclopedic account of Detroit in the early sixties, a kind of hymn to what really was a great city” (The New Yorker).
“A fascinating political, racial, economic, and cultural tapestry” (Detroit Free Press), a tour de force from David Maraniss about the quintessential American city at the top of its game: Detroit in 1963.
Detroit in 1963 is on top of the world. The city’s leaders are among the most visionary in America: Grandson of the first Ford; Henry Ford II; Motown’s founder Berry Gordy; the Reverend C.L. Franklin and his daughter, the incredible Aretha; Governor George Romney, Mormon and Civil Rights advocate; car salesman Lee Iacocca; Police Commissioner George Edwards; Martin Luther King. The time was full of promise. The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before. Yet the shadows of collapse were evident even then.

“Elegiac and richly detailed” (The New York Times), in Once in a Great City David Maraniss shows that before the devastating riot, before the decades of civic corruption and neglect, and white flight; before people trotted out the grab bag of rust belt infirmities and competition from abroad to explain Detroit’s collapse, one could see the signs of a city’s ruin. Detroit at its peak was threatened by its own design. It was being abandoned by the new world economy and by the transfer of American prosperity to the information and service industries. In 1963, as Maraniss captures it with power and affection, Detroit summed up America’s path to prosperity and jazz that was already past history. “Maraniss has written a book about the fall of Detroit, and done it, ingeniously, by writing about Detroit at its height….An encyclopedic account of Detroit in the early sixties, a kind of hymn to what really was a great city” (The New Yorker).
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About the Author-
  • Born in Detroit, David Maraniss is an associate editor at The Washington Post. Maraniss is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and bestselling author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story; First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton; Rome 1960: The Olympics that Stirred the World; Barack Obama: The Story; Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero; They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967; and When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, which was hailed by Sports Illustrated as "maybe the best sports biography ever published." He lives in Washington, DC, and Madison, Wisconsin.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 6, 2015
    Using a combination of historical eyewitness reports and sketches of larger-than-life figures, Pulitzer-winning reporter Maraniss (Barack Obama: The Story) draws a sprawling portrait of Detroit at a pivotal moment when it was “dying and thriving at the same time.” Given its current turmoil, it is easy to forget the Detroit that once was. Between the fall of 1962 and the spring of 1964, Detroit was at its peak. It was a front-runner in the bid for the 1968 Summer Olympics; its local civil rights leaders organized the Walk to Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. workshopped his famous “I Have a Dream” speech; Ford Motor Co. released the Mustang; Berry Gordy was honing the soon-to-be famous “Motown sound” on West Grand Boulevard; and Walter Reuther, head of UAW, was guiding labor towards progressive reform. But even in this golden age, all was not well in Detroit. Discriminatory housing practices, intended to prevent minorities from entering the toniest neighborhoods, were exacerbating existing racial tensions, and the city’s organized crime could not be cleaned up despite the police commissioner’s best efforts. But for all his exhaustive research and evocative scene-setting, Maraniss never seems to find the zeitgeist of the historical moment he covers, the essential spirit that lifted up but ultimately ruined the Motor City. Maps & photos. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2015

    In his new book, social historian Maraniss (They Marched Into Sunlight) asks: What happened to Detroit? In well-researched material that includes exclusive interviews with notable figures, the author concentrates his analysis on the "golden years" of Detroit in the early 1960s; an era that saw the rise of Motown and the domination of the Ford Motor Company's triumphant Mustang but was also a time of social unrest and racial conflict. He uses elements often associated with Detroit--music, athletics, motors, and race relations--to illustrate that even at the city's highest points, the inability to address the social issues dividing black and white, rich and poor, would ultimately be its undoing. Maraniss draws connections between Detroit's struggles, successes, and doubts to those same issues on the larger, national, scale, keeping the discussion in perspective. In celebration of what Detroit represented, this book is equally a study of what was lost and is written with an attractive wistfulness that pulls the reader in. The narrative's tone of reminiscence makes it entertainingly informative. VERDICT A colorful, detailed history of the rise and ultimate decline of Detroit that will appeal to sociologists, historians, music lovers, and car fans alike. [See Prepub Alert, 3/30/15.]--Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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