1934, Alexander Rodchenko: 'Girl with a Leica'.
New Yorker Article about the Leica mystique. A bit breathless, but perhaps interesting.
I am not at all sure if the Leica is still really justified. The main reason for its original development was to create a super-compact camera. This succeeded admirably, but since the seventies the world has been awash with even more compact cameras, and many in fine quality.
Another reason was the quietness of the Leica. But according to reports, the new Leica M8 is actually noisier than some DSLR cameras.
Then there is the viewfinder, which in the seventies was much, much bigger and brighter than SLR finders. But times have changed, and SLR finders are very big and bright now. SLR viewfinders don't, sadly, show the world beyond the picture frame. But on the other hand they show just what you get, even with a zoom lens, and the picture is equally big even with a tele lens.
Then there's the excellent rangefinder system with a wide base. All well and good, but not only are SLR finders improved, they also have autofocus now. Admittedly reports are mixed as to whether this is faster than good autofocus for all people and situations.
Then there are the amazing (and very expensive) lenses... This is ironic, because the original Leica was a huge compromise in image quality, compared to large-format cameras which ruled 80 years ago. So now it has become the high-end alternative. And yet most people will not be able to tell the difference between a Leica M8 picture and one from a DSLR at half the price.
It's a weird world.