8 Books That Will Make You Fall in Love with Detroit

by Kristen Twardowski on August 4, 2022

This summer take some time to brush up on your local history. From pop culture to social justice movements, from the music industry to the auto industry, we’ve curated a list of eight of our titles about Detroit.

We love this city. And if you don’t know much about Detroit (or even if you do) these books will help you fall in love with it too.

Jazz from Detroit by Mark Stryker

Jazz from Detroit explores the city’s pivotal role in shaping the course of modern and contemporary jazz. With more than two dozen in-depth profiles of remarkable Detroit-bred musicians, complemented by a generous selection of photographs, Mark Stryker makes Detroit jazz come alive as he draws out significant connections between the players, eras, styles, and Detroit’s distinctive history.

Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock ‘n’ Roll by David A. Carson

From the early days of John Lee Hooker to the heyday of Motown and beyond, Detroit has enjoyed a long reputation as one of the crucibles of American pop music. In Grit, Noise, and Revolution, David Carson turns the spotlight on those hard-rocking, long-haired musicians—influenced by Detroit’s R&B heritage—who ultimately helped change the face of rock ‘n’ roll.

Carson tells the story of some of the great garage-inspired, blue-collar Motor City rock ‘n’ roll bands that exemplified the Detroit rock sound: The MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, SRC, the Bob Seger System, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, and Grand Funk Railroad.

An indispensable guide for rock aficionados, Grit, Noise, and Revolution features stories of these groundbreaking groups and is the first book to chronicle Detroit music of the 1960s and 70s—a pivotal era in rock music history.

Detroit Is No Dry Bones: The Eternal City of the Industrial Age by Camilo José Vergara

Over the past 25 years, award-winning ethnographer and photographer Camilo José Vergara has traveled annually to Detroit to document not only the city’s precipitous decline but also how its residents have survived. From the 1970s through the 1990s, changes in Detroit were almost all for the worse, as the built fabric of the city was erased through neglect and abandonment. But over the last decade Detroit has seen the beginnings of a positive transformation, and the photography in Detroit Is No Dry Bones provides unique documentation of the revival and its urbanistic possibilities.

TV Land – Detroit by Gordon Castelnero

TV Land – Detroit takes an in-depth and personal look at the most popular and best-remembered local shows from the golden years of Detroit TV. Long before cable, prepackaged syndication, infomercials, do-it-yourselfers, and reality shows cluttered the television dial, there was a brand of entertainment that has today nearly vanished from the airwaves: local TV. And with its colorful and quirky cast of characters, Detroit TV arguably offered some of the best of the best of local programming anywhere in the nation—a smorgasbord of exuberant, one-of-a-kind television shows.

Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick

A classic of labor history, with a new foreword by one of the leading figures in urban studies–Black Detroit and the Rise of the UAW is essential reading for historians of labor and race in America, as well those interested in Detroit’s importance as a crucible for American urban history.

Butch Queens Up in Pumps: Gender, Performance, and Ballroom Culture in Detroit by Marlon M. Bailey

20 years after Paris is Burning, Butch Queens Up in Pumps takes an inside look Ballroom culture, in which inner-city LGBT individuals dress, dance, and vogue to compete for prizes and trophies. Participants are affiliated with a house, an alternative family structure typically named after haute couture designers and providing support to this diverse community. Marlon M. Bailey’s rich first-person performance ethnography of the Ballroom scene in Detroit examines Ballroom as a queer cultural formation that upsets dominant notions of gender, sexuality, kinship, and community.

Faith in the City: Preaching Radical Social Change in Detroit by Angela D. Dillard

Spanning more than three decades and organized around the biographies of Reverends Charles A. Hill and Albert B. Cleage Jr., Faith in the City is a major new exploration of how the worlds of politics and faith merged for many of Detroit’s African Americans—a convergence that provided the community with a powerful new voice and identity. While other religions have mixed politics and creed, Faith in the City shows how this fusion was and continues to be particularly vital to African American clergy and the Black freedom struggle.

Rouge River Revived: How People Are Bringing Their River Back to Life edited by John H. Hartig and Jim Graham

The Rouge River is a mostly urbanized watershed of about 500 square miles populated by nearly 1.4 million people. While not geographically large, the river has played an outsized role in the history of southeast Michigan, most famously housing Ford Motor Company’s massive Rouge Factory, designed by architect Albert Kahn and later memorialized in Diego Rivera’s renowned “Detroit Industry” murals. In recent decades, the story of the Rouge River has also been one of grassroots environmental activism. After pollution from the Ford complex and neighboring factories literally caused the river to catch on fire in 1969, community groups launched a Herculean effort to restore and protect the watershed. Today the Rouge stands as one of the most successful examples of urban river revival in the country.

Rouge River Revived describes the river’s history from pre-European times into the 21st century. Chapters cover topics such as Native American life on the Rouge; indigenous flora and fauna over time; the river’s role in the founding of local cities; its key involvement in Detroit’s urban development and intensive industrialization; and the dramatic clean-up arising from citizen concern and activism. This book is not only a history of the environment of the Rouge River, but also of the complex and evolving relationship between humans and natural spaces.

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