1967 in Detroit marked a period of complicated upheaval that powered a sea change in the cityâ€™s musical culture, one that was heard and revered around the world. That year, as the cityâ€™s most famous group, the Supremes, were riven by personal animosity and Motown tried to cope with the fallout of the greatest girl group ever, Detroit faced up to the biggest challenges in its history â€“ race, poverty, endemic police corruption. My book, Detroit 67: the Year that Changed Soul, focuses on the diverse culture of 1967 and how the cityâ€™s music scenes responded to the turbulence of the Vietnam war, social disruption and civil rights. Here are some of the books that helped me look back on that period of Americaâ€™s history with greater clarity.
1. Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides (Doubleday)
In April 1967, prisoner James Earl Ray escaped from Missouri State Penitentiary in a prison bakery van. This stunning book follows Rayâ€™s wandering across the deeply divided southern states as his paranoia and bigotry grows into full-blown megalomania and leads him to Memphis, where he eventually assassinates Martin Luther King. A brilliant thriller that interweaves the personal journeys of two differently motivated men is fortified by compelling social history.
2. The Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey (Knopf)
During the 12th Street riots of 1967, a Detroit police unit killed three teenage African-American boys at the Algiers motel. In the aftermath, Hersey, a professor at Yale who had just won the Pulitzer prize for his book on Hiroshima, packed his bags and left leafy academia to take to the cityâ€™s still-smouldering streets. Herseyâ€™s book still resonates today and should be read by anyone that supports the Black Lives Matter campaign.
3. Dispatches by Michael Herr (Knopf)
John le CarrÃ© described Dispatches as â€œthe best book I have ever read on men and war in our timeâ€. Although written in the 1970s, it flashes back to the height of the Vietnam war in the late 1960s, crafting characters that in turn influenced Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. It is war reportage, battlefield drama and intense tragedy and remains one of the great war books even today.
4. Where Did Our Love Go â€“ the Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound by Nelson George (Omnibus)
The best book on Motown and the rise of the greatest African American music corporation ever is packed with detail and passionate about its subject. Nelson George brings his towering understanding of soul music to full effect. Unlike other books on Motown, it is less obsessed with gossip and scandal and more intrigued by the circumstances that brought the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations to the world. A classic of its kind.
5. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfeâ€™s kaleidoscopic novel of LSD and social liberation was published in 1967 and follows the spaced-out adventures of author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they douse America in lysergic acid. One of the great books about counterculture, a perfect bind of observational journalism with hallucinogenic outrage.
6. Guitar Army: Rock and Revolution with the MC5 and the White Panther Party by John Sinclair (Process)
The book Tom Wolfe tried to write but didnâ€™t: this classic from the Detroit underground screams with revolutionary zeal. Written by John Sinclair, who was manager of the notorious Detroit band MC5 in 1967, Guitar Army is more angry than Kool-Aid Acid Test and more militant than Motown. Sinclairâ€™s book provides a superb insight into Detroitâ€™s music scene.
7. The Medium Is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan (Ginko Press)
Another landmark book from 1967 that revolutionised the way we see technological media and communication. A huge influence on Wired magazine, it foresaw ideas we take for granted today, such as the growth of participative media and user-generated content. It manages to crystallise big ideas in a small, accessible format.
8. Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by Robert Gordon (Bloomsbury)
A tour de force on the story of Stax, black Americaâ€™s other great soul label. The book arches across the decade, but takes its gritty influences from the segregated communities of the deep south and the strange synergies that wove soul and country music into a visceral and expressive sound.
9. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser (Pavilion)
Aliâ€™s life has a magnetic attraction for biographers, but Hauserâ€™s compact and well-researched book is among the best. 1967 seeps throughout the book: the year Ali publicly opposed the war in Vietnam, thus facing excommunication from boxing by the sportâ€™s notoriously conservative establishment. The book never tips into hagiography; it remains consistently honest about Ali and his shifting motives, as he joins the Nation of Islam and faces a massively hostile media.
10. Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of America by Suzanne Smith (Harvard University Press)
Unashamedly academic and analytical, this history of Motown dispenses with easy cliches and argues that Motown was an important but ultimately compromised moment in black capitalism. Smith digs deeper into the story of Detroit, particularly the tense warfare within the cityâ€™s car assembly plants â€“ but always with the infectious beat of her subject.
- Stuart Cosgrove is the author of Detroit 67: the Year that Changed Soul. It is shortlisted for the 2016 Penderyn music book prize, with the winner announced on 3 April. His forthcoming book, Young Soul Rebels â€“ A Personal History of Northern Soul, is published by Polygon in May at Â£14.99 and can be preordered from the Guardian Bookshop for Â£11.99.