Once In A Great City by David Maraniss is a book that delves into the socio-political topics of the Civil Rights Movement, labor union organization, and the rise of the soul music label Motown.
It is set in Detroit in 1963, a crucial year in the city’s history, marking the end of its boom times and the beginning of its end times. The book casts a wide net, collecting and seeking to synthesize these seemingly disparate strands.
The auto industry was selling more cars than ever before, yet the shadows of collapse were evident even then. 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.
What I Liked
I liked the writing, research, and storytelling. I also liked how he was able to tell a larger stories about how cities have to continually change, evolve, and adapt to survive long-term. It was also interesting to learn that a city can be unhealthy even when it’s at a peak of influence. Just as with business, you are most vulnerable to disruption when you think you’ve “won”.
What I Did Not Like
It’s a pretty niche book that’s focused on one city. I would definitely pair it with Warmth of Other Suns for a better understanding of the racial side of Detroit’s struggles.