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Charlie LeDuff's indictment of corruption and race politics: 'Detroit - An American Autopsy'

Charlie LeDuff
Charlie LeDuff
John Rabe

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Reporter Charlie LeDuff lives by the reporter's creed: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

LeDuff shared a Pulitzer at the New York Times for reporting people's stories across America, then settled in LA for a time, before returning to his ancestral home, Detroit.

He worked for the Detroit News for a few years, and now is muckraking local TV reporter.

He's just written a book about going back home; it's called Detroit: An American Autopsy.

To hear Charlie read about discovering a body encased in ice in an abandoned factory - listen to our interview. Here's a short excerpt from the prologue of Detroit: An American Autopsy:

Today, the boomtown is bust. It is an eerie and angry place of deserted factories and homes and forgotten people. Detroit, which once led the nation in home ownership, is now a foreclosure capital. Its downtown is a museum of ghost skyscrapers. Trees and switchgrass and wild animals have come back to reclaim their rightful places. Coyotes are here. The pigeons have left in droves. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots, I am told.

Once the nation’s richest big city, Detroit is now its poorest. It is the country’s illiteracy and dropout capital, where children must leave their books at school and bring toilet paper from home. It is the unemployment capital, where half the adult population does not work at a consistent job. There are firemen with no boots, cops with no cars, teachers with no pencils, city council members with telephones tapped by the FBI, and too many grandmothers with no tears left to give.

But Detroit can no longer be ignored, because what happened here is happening out there. Neighborhoods from Phoenix to Los Angeles to Miami are blighted with empty houses and people with idle hands. Americans are swimming in debt, and the prospects of servicing the debt grow slimmer by the day as good-paying jobs continue to evaporate or relocate to foreign lands. Economists talk about the inevitable turnaround. But standing here in Michigan, it seems to me that the fundamentals are no longer there to make the good life.

Go ahead and laugh at Detroit. Because you are laughing at yourself.