The city of Detroit, writes hardboiled native Charlie LeDuff, “would never have been if not for the beaver.” The 17th-century European fad for beaver-pelt hats led to the origins of the city as a fort to protect France’s fur trade. The commander, Antoine Laumet, called himself the “sieur de Cadillac.”
By 1934, LeDuff writes in his morbidly funny take on how this “most iconic of American cities . . . became a cadaver,” the city was “choking on industry,” with air “the color of a filthy dishrag” and a river so poisoned “it was said you could bottle it and sell it as paint thinner.” Until very recently, the last beaver was reportedly spotted in the river that year.