Books no Detroit enthusiast should be without

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
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Eager to demonstrate your Detroit bonafides?

Consider adorning your coffee table, whether in Indian Village or Rochester Hills, with books touting the city’s newly rediscovered charms.

Detroit is famous for its remarkable architecture, particularly from the 1920s and ’30s, and no architect had a bigger impact on the look of downtown in that era than Wirt Rowland.

The architect, who worked at Smith Hinchman & Grylls (predecessor to today’s Smith Group), designed the Penobscot, Guardian and Buhl buildings, all within half a block of one another — an astonishing concentration of city-defining structures all in one place.

Rowland was shamefully overlooked until now. Local architectural historian Michael G. Smith has remedied this with “Designing Detroit: Wirt Rowland and the Rise of Modern American Architecture,”Wayne State University Press, $44.99.

Anyone interested in Detroit architecture will want this handsome, exhaustively researched volume on their bookshelf. More than just a biography, it amounts to a general architectural history of the city in the first half of the 20th century.

Continuing in the design vein, another seminal Detroit architect gets his due with John Gallagher’s “Yamasaki in Detroit: A Search for Serenity,”Wayne State University Press, $39.99.

Minoru Yamasaki, who overcame poverty and racial discrimination to become one of Modernism’s leading architects, is best known for designing New York’s World Trade Center, but also left a deep imprint on Detroit. Local works by “Yama” include the sleek Michigan Consolidated Gas Building downtown and Wayne State University’s McGregor Memorial Conference Center.

Shifting gears, whether you’re a new arrival in Detroit, or a suburbanite suddenly interested in hanging out more downtown, you need the great guidebook compiled by siblings and seventh-generation Detroiters Andy, Emily and Rob Linn, “Belle Isle to 8 Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit,” self-published and available at for $22. (It’s also available at City Bird in Midtown.)

While written a few years ago, “Belle Isle to 8 Mile” is a comprehensive, lively guide for anyone serious about exploring what the New York Times recently called “America’s most-exciting city.”

On the other hand, if you just want to have a rip-roaring good time, pick up Dave Krieger’s “Things People Say About Detroit, A Collection of Quotes As Told to the Nain Rouge,” self-published and for sale at for $17.95.

The Nain Rouge, or red dwarf, is Detroit’s French-colonial demon, who pops up throughout the city’s history to work his mischief. He’s also, more recently, become the subject of an annual spring parade in Midtown.

And, judging by Krieger’s book, my oh my — that saucy Nain certainly gets people to talk.

Finally, anyone deeply into Detroit history — and the way the city once looked — will want to grace their coffee table with Dan Austin’s handsome “Greetings From Detroit: Historic Postcards From the Motor City,” from Wayne State University Press, $24.99.

(313) 222-6021

Twitter: @mhodgesguy

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