Thomas Sugrue analyzes how race, deindustrialization, and housing intersected in Detroit between 1940 and 1960. Sugrue finds the urban crisis stemming from the postwar years rather than the 1960s, charting racial inequality, grassroots conservatism, and housing in shaping the structural explanations for inequality. Historical actors were constrained by cultural racism, deindustrialization, federal housing policies, but also workplace discrimination, local political movements, and neighborhood and class divisions that shape the racial landscape.

Concurrently, Sugrue examines the rise of grassroots conservatism, pushing against the narrative that conservatism was a backlash against the Great Society. Sugrue finds the conservative movement much earlier, whose politics centered around the protection of prosperity in the workplace and home.

Finally, Sugrue looks to housing to push against the “ghettoization” narrative and notes that poor whites could not afford to flee affluent suburbs, while blacks entering into white neighborhoods were often middle and upper class, leaving behind poor blacks in neighborhoods that declined. Simultaneously, white homeowners resisted black entrance into their neighborhoods, placing limits on their entry through restrictive covenants, municipal policies, and discriminatory lending policies.