Both volumes document the elegant and colorful architecture of dozens of office buildings, restaurants, churches, art museums and homes built in Detroit during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
LeDuff visited an old neighborhood he knew as a younger man.
"The block was completely abandoned, the shells of homes where middle-class lives were once lived. The same homes were occupied the last time I was here with my mother. The collapse came on and it came on quickly. Like a tsunami. I don't know if it was drugs that ruined the neighborhood or civil neglect. Was it the disappearance of the car jobs or the raping of the middle class by Wall Street?" Le Duff asks.
LeDuff criticizes everyone, including virtually all company, union and political leaders. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., he writes "was weak." But Conyers, one of the nation's longest-serving Congressmen, is held in the highest regard by most of the nation's reformers.
Discussing the decline of jobs, LeDuff writes, "You might point to the trade agreements of the Clinton years that allowed American manufacturers to leave the country by the back door."
Martelle argues that the "rise of the unions in Detroit is a compelling, complex and ultimately inspiring story that has become the stuff of labor lore," including the sit-in strikes during the Depression.
"Detroit: A Biography" criticizes the United Auto Workers for moving to the right politically when Sen. Joe McCarthy and anti-communism began gaining influence in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
After prospering during World War II, when most auto plants built tanks and other military equipment, Detroit's employment decline began in the 1950s, Martelle writes, when auto companies "embarked on massive decentralization plans" to move factories closer to "consumer bases around the country."
The UAW, under the leadership of Walter Reuther, made Detroit's autoworkers some of the best paid laborers, both skilled and unskilled, in the nation.
"Yet the UAW," Martelle writes, "with its ability to shut down production to win its demands, was also seen by the automakers as one of the worst parts of doing business in Detroit."
In the early 1950s, nearly half of all auto jobs were in Detroit. By 1960, only one-third of all auto jobs were still there.
Major riots and uprisings also mark Detroit's history, including those in 1863, 1943 and 1967.
During the July 1967 riots, sparked by racial tensions, 43 people were killed, 7,000 were arrested and 2,000 buildings were set on fire.
Today, the lack of jobs encourages the city's growing "illicit economy," Martelle writes, especially the drug trade.
By 2008, during the recession, one of every four housing units in Detroit was vacant. The average home price plummeted from $97,847 in 2003 to just $12,439 by 2008.
Our whole legal system needs major reforms, Martelle believes. Existing federal and state laws put the self-interest of corporate executives far ahead of the interests of their own workforces and their communities.
Corporate decisions made for cities like Detroit, Martelle argues, "are deeply lamentable and at a significant level immoral. But railing against them does no good."
Reformed national policies are central to crafting a better future.
"Until those [national] policies are changed to put the needs of people and communities ahead of corporations -- or to tie the fates of corporations to the communities in which they work -- there is no real answer to the troubles afflicting places like Detroit."
Both of these books are disturbing. But the issues they raise are critical to molding a better future for tens of millions of middle-class, working and poor Americans.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-516.