A series of trenchant essays, this primer on city government is an indispensable introduction to the often bewildering machinations that go on in a big city. As a former city official, a businessman, teacher, writer and now a member of the New York Times Editorial Board, Start is uniquely qualified to describe the city's colorful high points and ignominious moments. He approaches the subject as a liberal and a humanitarian but doesn't shrink from blunt diagnoses when necessary. He isn't afraid to be unpopular or to go up against vested interests; clichâ€šs and sacred cows take a beating in the process. After a brief historical backgrounder Starr explains the planning, financial, educational, housing, welfare, cultural, racial, ethnic and religious complexities with grace and shrewdness. With an economy of effort that is nonetheless thorough and often brilliant, he delivers a new slant on the Civil War Draft Riots as well as a lively dissertation on the mob and local politicos. New York City had certain assets--a fine harbor, great transportation, good people and an adequate educational system, plentiful housing and lawfulness. How, why and when these great advantages were lost, and what replaced them is cogently explained. As are the seeds of the city's near-bankruptcy, which were found in its generous and well-intentioned social policies, and its inability to say no to groups asking for more of everything, from art to welfare. Too, Starr worries the lessons of the bailout may be easily forgotten. The future for him demands a tough realism on the part of New Yorkers, an ability to say ""no"" to imprudent expenditures and even to skimp on needed ones. There is no better place to learn about the city's follies and glories than at Starr's side; his is a scintillating tour and he is a preeminent guide.