Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story Description
Review“Elegiac and richly detailed . . . Maraniss . . . conjures those boom years of his former hometown with novelistic ardor. Using overlapping portraits of Detroiters (from politicians to musicians to auto execs), he creates a mosaiclike picture of the city that has the sort of intimacy and tactile emotion that Larry McMurtry brought to his depictions of the Old West, and the gritty sweep of David Simon’s HBO series “The Wire.” . . . People’s experiences intersect or collide or resonate with one another, and Mr. Maraniss uses them as windows on the larger cultural and political changes convulsing the nation in the ‘60s . . . [Maraniss] succeeds with authoritative, adrenaline-laced flair. . . . Maraniss cuts among story lines about the auto industry, the civil rights movement and City Hall, and among subplots involving Ford’s development of its top-secret new car (the singular Mustang), the police commissioner’s efforts to get the goods on the mobster Tony Giacalone and Berry Gordy’s construction of a hit factory with Motown. The result is a buoyant Frederick Lewis Allen-like social history that’s animated by an infectious soundtrack and lots of tactile details, and injected with a keen understanding of larger historical forces at work – both in Detroit and America at large. . . . Maraniss’s evocative book provides a wistful look back at an era when those cracks were only just beginning to show, and the city still seemed a place of “uncommon possibility” and was creating “wondrous and lasting things.” (Michiko Kakutani for The New York Times)“Captivating . . . Maraniss hears the joyous sound of a city suddenly, improbably filled with hope. . . . Maraniss asks himself what in the city has lasted, a question that often haunts former Detroiters. The songs, he decides. Not the reforms, not the dream of racial justice, not the promise of a Great Society, but the wonderfully exuberant songs that came pouring out of Berry Gordy’s studio. That’s the tragedy at the core of this gracious, generous book. All that remains of the hopeful moment Maraniss so effectively describes is a soundtrack. And that isn’t nearly enough.” (The Washington Post)“Once in a Great City is incandescent. Through evocative writing and prodigious research, David Maraniss offers us an unforgettable portrait of 1963 Detroit, muscular and musical, during the early days of Motown and the Mustang. Bursting with larger than life figures from Henry Ford II, Walter Reuther, and Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, to Berry Gordy, Martin Luther King, and Reverend C.L. Franklin, Aretha's father, this book is at once the chronicle of a city during its last fine time and also a classic American story of promise and loss.” (Gay Talese)“David Maraniss turns back the clock to paint the picture of an American metropolis in its prime, however, one where the seeds of the city’s future fall were already starting to take root. . . . Maraniss’s recounting of the story of his birthplace has the distinct feeling of the first big drop of a roller coaster. A car chugging upward towards heady heights, but en route takes an inevitable plunge back into cold reality. . . . Maraniss is able to give these characters life by injecting them with foibles along with the force of personality that made them prominent figures in the building of the city. . . . The simple breadth of the book is impressive, with Maraniss merging and wrangling disparate storylines about culture, politics, race, and the Ford Mustang into a single patchwork image of the Motor City.” (Christian Science Monitor)“A compelling portrait of one of America’s most iconic cities. . . . Maraniss highlights the class and race frictions that demarcated and defined the city and gives readers a glimpse of the colorful life of mobsters and moguls, entertainers and entrepreneurs. Among the famous Detroiters he highlights are Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca, Berry Gordy Jr., George Romney, and the Reverend C. L. Franklin. Maraniss captures Detroit just as it is both thriving and dying, at the peak of its vibrancy and on the verge of its downfall.” (Booklist (starred review))“A sprawling portrait of Detroit at a pivotal moment.” (Publishers Weekly)“In celebration of what Detroit represented, this book is equally a study of what was lost and is written with an attractive wistfulness that pulls the reader in. The narrative's tone of reminiscence makes it entertainingly informative. . . A colorful, detailed history of the rise and ultimate decline of Detroit.” (Library Journal)“Fast-paced,sprawling, copiously detailed look at 18 months—from 1962 to 1964—in the city's past . . . Maraniss' brawny narrative evokes a city still ‘vibrantly alive’ and striving for a renaissance. An illuminating history of a golden era in a city desperately seeking to reclaim the glory.” (Kirkus Reviews)“[A] glimmering portrait of Detroit . . . that will leave the reader thoroughly haunted. . . . Once in a Great City has it all: significant scenes, tremendously charismatic figures, even a starry soundtrack. . . . Reading about the city in its hey day is like falling backward in time and running into someone whose youthful blush you’d completely forgotten. Detroit is that someone. She is bright and laughing, flickering before you like a specter from the past. I doubt I’ll forget her anytime soon.” (Bookpage)Maraniss . . . undoubtedly will attract notice and focus even more attention on Detroit. With all that’s been written about the city in the past 20 years, it manages to be a unique and absorbing take. Even Detroiters who lived through the 1960s will find Maraniss’ account enlightening. As often as authors have told the story of Gordy and the rise of Motown, Maraniss still captures the vitality and enterprise on West Grand Boulevard in a fresh way. . . . [Maraniss] is equally adept at capturing the white-run city’s complex racial dynamics at a time when black leaders were becoming more militant and clashing with each other over the proper level of assertiveness. Maraniss . . . who lived on the west side before his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, when he was 6, is a skillful storyteller, and his interpretation of events in Detroit a half century ago is well founded. . . . Maraniss will only add to his reputation with Once in a Great City. It’s a good read if your interest is only to visit Detroit’s remarkable recent past. It’s even a better read if you are interested in the city’s extraordinary devolution. In either case, it’s a story that is haunting, thought-provoking and, in the end, sad. (DeadlineDETROIT.com)“A sobering portrait of a city that felt itself to be at the peak of its power and influence in a "time of uncommon possibility and freedom when Detroit created wondrous and lasting things," even as the forces that would topple it had set about their work. The principal strength of Maraniss's book lies in his skill at marshaling copious research to serve his sophisticated account of a complex, vibrant city balanced on its tipping point. . . . Sadly, one can't avoid the conclusion that never again will it be the city David Maraniss portrays with empathy and candor in this impressive book.” (Shelf Awareness)
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