... vigorous, provocative ... compelling, bold and stylishly written. But in his epilogue, Mr. Whyte overplays his hand. He compares the regulation of auto makers to current attempts to hold pharmaceutical companies responsible for the opioid epidemic.
If Whyte frames the book in sometimes off-putting conservative terms—he refers to the array of landmark laws passed by the 89th Congress, including the Social Security Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Highway Safety Act (mandating seat belts and head restraints), as an 'orgy' of legislation—he does a good job of parsing the self-interests of many of the principals, while adding depth and welcome nuance to this significant American business story.
Could any book be evaluated for its separate qualities on a standalone basis, like so many subjects in grade school, then The Sack of Detroit might warrant a checkered report card, with an A- here and a C+ there. Alas, a book is the sum of its parts, and only the best ones amount to more. The flaws in Whyte’s new work tend to sully its finest features, some of which are very fine, indeed ... the author’s research is powerfully thorough. It seems he left no report, testimony, notepad scribble, or utterance unconsidered ... Where Whyte loses the reader is among the thicket of claims that GM had the kind of global importance the author sees. Granted, many of those alive in the 1960s accorded to GM similar praise. The company made history, no doubt, but the more salient question is: How much? ... Despite its heft, The Sack of Detroit is worth getting through for its last chapters, in which Whyte draws sharp parallels with today’s American industrial giants and the backlash they face over reckless stewardship ... succeeds most in its portrayal of the achievements and idol status of the great American automobile, and the manufacturers — GM chief among them — which so many have worshipped. The slow demise of General Motors was not the 'end of American enterprise,' as Whyte claims throughout. Instead, it was a continuation of a long road, as old as human ambition, toward a constantly shifting balance among business, regulation, and consumer vigilance. That is, as ever, where American enterprise finds itself today.
... adroit, thoroughly researched ... Whyte argues persuasively against assuming 'the altruism of crusaders and reformers,' some of whom are intent on 'assigning blame and sacking rich targets' ... An authoritative contribution to business and automotive history.
... strident ... Though some intriguing points are raised, Whyte’s antipathy toward the 'regulatory state' and ardent sympathy for corporate executives cast doubt on the fairness of his analysis. This agenda-driven history overstates its case.