A PRAYER FOR THE CITY by Buzz Bissinger


The True Story of a Mayor and Five Heroes in a Race Against Time
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 Bissinger (Friday Night Lights, 1990), a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, merges the stories of a frenetic mayor and a dying city in a tour de force that paints a rich picture of a depressing reality. Philadelphia was facing bankruptcy when Ed Rendell became mayor in 1992. Having obtained extraordinary access to the mayor's office, Bissinger provides a firsthand account of the major events--including the battle with public-sector labor unions for contract concessions and the imminent closing of the naval shipyard--and constant minor crises that shaped the city during this period. We also meet individuals as varied as the mayor's workaholic chief assistant, a prosecutor who relishes his victories in court, a libertarian given an opportunity to promote privatization, and a welder trying to hold on as the shipyards prepare to close. These vignettes, along with the a generous sprinkling of historical background, provide a window on the contemporary urban dilemma: The ideals and energy of the dedicated are at least matched by the apparent hopelessness of the situation. Bissinger's professionalism as a journalist is apparent throughout, and no punches are pulled. Rendell's victories are featured, but he is characterized as impulsive, an explosion waiting to happen, with no one able to predict whether each event will be positive or an utter disaster. But there is a clear messsage here: No sane individual could succeed at this job, so Philadelphia is fortunate to have a mayor whose flaws at least have the potential to be virtues. Ultimately, we want to believe everything will turn out all right despite the knowledge that a happy ending is unlikely. As a result, the abrupt conclusion--the volume ends as Rendell is reelected--is unsatisfying, though inevitable. In the real world, life goes on, and this is definitely a story about the real world. (16 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-42198-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997


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