The best books about Detroit are brutally honest accounts of historic events that shaped its identity. The rather notorious legacies left behind by its infamous leaders are fodder for delicious discussion, even better yet for fueling scandalous narratives. Unlike Good King Wenceslas or St. Thomas Aquinas, Detroit’s luminaries didn’t plant daisy patches or rise to power because they were pure of heart. Not every leader can be as classy as a long-stemmed rose. In Detroit’s case, they have been more like rogue stems with ubiquitous thorns.
“Cadillac and the Dawn of Detroit”
by Annick Hivert-Carthew
Antoine Laumet, better known under his fake name Antoine La
umet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, was a con artist, criminal, manipulator, liar, alcohol kingpin and thief who had a really huge nose. He showed up in the New World telling people he was a member of the French nobility, and the locals fell for it. He was appointed “founder” of Detroit and ran the colony with an iron fist, cheating and stealing in every way imaginable, until Francois de Clairambault d’Aigremont exposed him. Tossed in jail twice for corruption, Cadillac’s name went down in history as the venerated father of Detroit.
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“Pontiac and the Indian Uprising”
by Howard Henry Peckham
Chief Pontiac was the leader of the Ottawa, who lived in the Detroit area before the Europeans arrived. He accepted bribes from the Europeans to keep the native people at bay. When the British cut off his bribe of 10 shillings per day, he became indignant with their occupation and instigated attacks on English holdings. He wanted to return to the good old days when the French lavished him with alcohol and flattery, but the French had been defeated at war. In the end, Pontiac exiled himself to Illinois, where he spent his golden years drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Murdered outside his favorite tavern, Pontiac’s life became the subject of many myths and legends.
“The Fall and Recapture of Detroit in the War of 1812: In Defense of William Hull”
by Anthony J. Yanik
General William Hull was the American who surrendered Detroit to British General Isaac Brock in the War of 1812. Hull capitulated without firing a single shot or putting up a fight, which resulted in his court-martial for cowardice. Considered by some to be a traitor, incompetent and unorganized, Hull led an ill-fated invasion of Canada, whereupon he changed his mind, fleeing back across the river to Detroit.
“The Ford Century: Ford Motor Company and the Innovations that Shaped the World”
by Russ Banham
In 1903, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. He was a prohibitionist who hired detectives to spy on his employees to catch them drinking alcohol at home. Then he fired any worker found consuming alcohol. Meanwhile, he kept a mistress named Evangeline Cote and ran his German subsidiary, Ford-Werke, using slave labor. Awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Nazi Germany, Ford blamed the Jewish people for economic distress. He ran Ford Motor Company until his family had him tossed out after a complete mental collapse. This book shows how his innovations changed the course of civilization as we know it.
“The 1967 Detroit Riots (Perspectives on Modern World History)”
by Noah Berlatsky
One of the deadliest and most destructive civil disturbances in US history took place in Detroit on July 23, 1967. Police raided The Blind Pig, a brazen speakeasy, and arrested 87 people for illegal consumption of alcohol. Police were caught fondling and photographing female suspects, as well as brutalizing the men. Neighbors reacted to the arrests with ire and spleen, looting the adjacent clothing store as a form of protest. The looting escalated into a disruption that lasted five days, punctuated by arson, sniper-firing at police and firemen and widespread mayhem promulgated by 10,000 rioters. Berlatsky’s work gives rich detail and exhaustive examination to the historic event.
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Romero Anton Montalban-Anderssen is the winner of the 2009 first prize in journalism from the Detroit Working Writers Organization. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Wayne State University School of Law. He has seasonal residency in Detroit Michigan, The Italian Riviera, and Honolulu Hawaii. His work can be found at Examiner.com.