Charlie LeDuff on going home to Detroit, and the problems with ruin porn

A row of abandoned buildings is shown March 23, 2011 in Detroit, Mich.

Image of Detroit: An American Autopsy
Author: Charlie LeDuff
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 304 pages

Detroit. The Motor City. Home of the Big Three. The birthplace of America's manufacturing past. And maybe the graveyard of it, too.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff was raised in Detroit. He left it, wrote for the New York Times, and then he went back home. His new book, "Detroit: An American Autopsy," details what he found there.

"Detroit built the American way of life, it built the middle class," said LeDuff. "Everything came out of coal and steel and rubber and cars -- and it went away. And now we still have coherent car companies, but we don't have the jobs, because those are gone. So what do we do with all the leftover people?"

The book details corruption of city officials and mismanagment of city funds, to the detriment of police officers and fire fighters who are left with little resources to support the population. 

He said the city still has plenty of humanity left, though. LeDuff dismissed the suggestion the book is a form of ruin porn.

"I'm not writing about buildings, that's what people come here and do. They write about buildings and they take pictures of buildings and they seem to miss all the humanity that's here," he said. "We're living, breathing human beings who have dreams and children and wishes and hunger. That's who I'm writing about. I'm writing about how hard it is to get through this, but the fact is, we are. And we're fighters. So it's not ruin porn. It's about holding on."

LeDuff recounts going to the funeral of his niece, who died of a overdose, the day before Mother's Day.

"And I looked around that grave -- I saw my brother unemployed, my brother unemployed, my brother unemployed and my mom unemployed -- I looked at that and I said, 'What happened here?'"

But he countered, "We're still here, though. We're still here. And we're going to keep going."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Image of Detroit: An American Autopsy
Author: Charlie LeDuff
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 304 pages

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