Boston, once ""the Athens of America,"" has turned into Belfast; ""economic dry rot"" means public schools, both black and white, that no middle-class parent would accept. But in 1974, the courts ordered compulsory interracial busing, and well-meaning Mayor Kevin White, who opposed busing but called for observance of the law, was caught in the middle. Lupo, a reporter who has written about the politics of transportation, sat in on the mayor's strategy sessions; he has produced a book that combines hip renditions of ""conversations, quotes, screams, shouts, orders, moans, and wisecracks"" with sonorous overviews (""They march often now, the white people of Boston. . .""). The school crisis itself is handled less revealingly than the background of Boston's devolution. White fumes about Judge Garrity and Teddy Kennedy and their unwelcome interventions on the busing issue; aides like Robert Kiley are presented as tough but humane pros. The main theme is the powerlessness of city government--partly the heritage of the ""goo-goo's,"" Lupo suggests, the reformers who cut back traditional politicos' prerogatives on behalf of 1960s ""New Boston"" urban renewal at the population's expense. And the population was pre-programmed for strife, given the heritage of Irish plebian suffering at the hands of Yankee abolitionists, as well as the insular outlook instilled by New England's decay. Yet, by making the crisis so predetermined, an energetic book becomes rather pat. Lupo repeatedly frowns at those who ""ignore the class problem"" and asserts that the answer is to bus black children into the suburbs--but he never justifies or elaborates this policy beyond stating that the suburbs are to blame for urban collapse, and thus the proposal sounds like punishment. A valuable retrospective, a specious verdict.