Let me share a quick anecdote. The last time I was in Detroit was in 1991. What I saw there so depressed me that I wrote the city off as an urban-industrial wasteland, a veritable dystopia. A few years ago I moved to Houston. While Houston certainly isn't a pretty city, I've always told myself, "Well, at least it's not as bad as Detroit."
This guide proved me wrong on both points: Detroit is a treasure-trove of marvelous 19th and early-20th century American urban architecture (albeit, much in disrepair). And while far more prosperous, Houston is, in fact, a very unattractive large American city, save the few remaining structures (perhaps a dozen) by Staub, Watkin, Cram and Finn. Sorry to irritate all my Houstonian friends, but it's true.
Architectural historians love Detroit, and there's a reason: Here is a major American city, "preserved in poverty" from the early 20th century. And here is a book that brings its great monuments to you. The catalog of beautiful historic churches and cathedrals ALONE is worth the price of the book. Then there are the old skyscrapers and the public buildings (such as the Art Institute). Written in standard AIA format with about 400 exceptionally well-chosen entries, this book will feel familiar to all architecture lovers who've ventured into buying one (or many) of these expensive guides. You're collection is incomplete without this one, if only for the fact that it documents one of the most important and impressive collections of American urban architecture in existence. Many of the most important architects of the late 19th and early 20th centuries worked in Detroit, and most of their work remains. One thing to keep in mind is that the book features more public and institutional architecture than residential, but the most notable residential sites are included.
The book format is perfect. The sites are interesting for their historic and artistic contexts, and the coverage is comprehensive. The descriptive essays are brief, but concise. Each entry also includes a group of symbols to indicate its listing on specific landmark registers, its condition, and means of public access. Very nice feature.
The photography is all monochrome, but the views are good and reveal the buildings well. There are even a few interior shots. Simple maps, introductory essays and architect biographies round out this benchmark entry in the AIA-sponsored series. The book includes excursions to Cranbrook and Grosse Pointe, but includes only one entry for Hamtramck. Most of the sites are concentrated in and around downtown.
Detroit is still a poor and dangerous city (thanks to a completely incompetent government), but the building stock is enough to inspire a revival. And it's all still there waiting to be discovered! This guide is valuable for the architectural historian, preservationist, and armchair traveler. It may even inspire you to take a trip to old Motown for a visit.