Once in a Great City Once in a Great City

Once in a Great City

A Detroit Story

    • 3.8 • 23 Ratings
    • $14.99
    • $14.99

Publisher Description

“A fascinating political, racial, economic, and cultural tapestry” (Detroit Free Press), Once in a Great City is 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).

September 15
Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster Digital Sales LLC

Customer Reviews

iloveAC/DC ,

Interesting View of Motor City

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, David Maraniss, was affected by the Chrysler commercial that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. Even though he had only lived in Motor City for seven years, he was so inspired by Eminem's lyrics, "This is the Motor City. This is what we do." that he chose to write his next book about his sometimes revered and sometimes maligned home town.

Once in a Great City is 385 pages of interwoven tales and facts that gives readers the overall impression of Detroit from the autumn of 1962 to the spring of 1964. Maraniss wanted to shine a light on Detroit in its glory before race riots, declining population, and loss of manufacturing jobs decimated Detroit. In Once in a Great City, cars like the Thunderbird, Mustang and Barracuda were coveted and the country was grooving to Motown tunes from Little Stevie and Smokey Robinson.

I'm a Californian, and aside from knowing that Detroit was a big car town, I knew little of its history. For me, Once in a Great City was an intriguing source of recent history. Maraniss' book is not an all-encompassing history of Detroit; the book gives readers a flavor of some of the stand out people and events from a short but iconic span of time. Like a quilter's pieced together fabrics, Maraniss' overlaid portraits of politicians, musicians and auto executives makes an interesting and intimate tale that reflects the cultural and political issues that were heating up.

Some random facts I found interesting:

Berry Gordy Jr. started Motown with an $800 loan from his family.
MLK rehearsed his "I Have a Dream" speech in Detroit before revising it to the iconic version given in Washington D.C.
Aretha Franklin's father, Rev. C.L. Franklin organized a Walk for Freedom.
Little Stevie (Steve Wonder) was a stage hog.
Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson's relationship
Detroit launched two unsuccessful bids to host the Olympics.

The UAW, JFK, Romney, and Ford also have significant and interesting roles in this book. Maraniss covers so many diverse subjects, and the segue between each story was smooth. From the meat packers and gambling football teams on party buses to violent labor groups, police shootings and gambling rings at the Gotham Hotel, Once in a Great City is packed with people and events that eventually influenced the nation both socially and politically.

JKevinMurphy ,

Once in a Great City

The author's relentlessly nostalgic take on Motown, JFK and the New Frontier, a failed Olympic bid, and the Mustang neatly excises having to deal with the imminent riots, chronic violence, and city corruption that led to the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history 50 years on. As Berry Gordy, Jr., his artists, the auto manufacturers, the middle class who departed showed: their experimental and productive talents created and sustained Motown. Reuther's dwindling UAW and big government cannot re-create the entrepreneurship that made Detroit and, absent that, this book amounts to a maudlin epitaph.

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