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A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City

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Jacques Roy

8 Hours 54 Minutes

Simon & Schuster

April 2017

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Audio Book Summary

A young college grad buys a house in Detroit for $500 and attempts to restore it—and his new neighborhood—to its original glory in this “deeply felt, sharply observed personal quest to create meaning and community out of the fallen…A standout” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Drew Philp, an idealistic college student from a working-class Michigan family, decides to live where he can make a difference. He sets his sights on Detroit, the failed metropolis of abandoned buildings, widespread poverty, and rampant crime. Arriving with no job, no friends, and no money, Philp buys a ramshackle house for five hundred dollars in the east side neighborhood known as Poletown. The roomy Queen Anne he now owns is little more than a clapboard shell on a crumbling brick foundation, missing windows, heat, water, electricity, and a functional roof.

A $500 House in Detroit is Philp’s raw and earnest account of rebuilding everything but the frame of his house, nail by nail and room by room. “Philp is a great storyteller…[and his] engrossing” (Booklist) tale is also of a young man finding his footing in the city, the country, and his own generation. We witness his concept of Detroit shift, expand, and evolve as his plan to save the city gives way to a life forged from political meaning, personal connection, and collective purpose. As he assimilates into the community of Detroiters around him, Philp guides readers through the city’s vibrant history and engages in urgent conversations about gentrification, racial tensions, and class warfare.

Part social history, part brash generational statement, part comeback story, A $500 House in Detroit “shines [in its depiction of] the ‘radical neighborliness’ of ordinary people in desperate circumstances” (Publishers Weekly). This is an unforgettable, intimate account of the tentative revival of an American city and a glimpse at a new way forward for generations to come.

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