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A Prayer for the City

A Prayer for the City

4.0 4
by Buzz Bissinger, Robert Clark (Photographer)

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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Friday Night Lights, the heart-wrenching and hilarious true story of an American city on its knees and a man who will do anything to save it.

A Prayer for the City is acclaimed journalist Buzz Bissinger's true epic of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, an utterly unique, unorthodox, and idiosyncratic


From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Friday Night Lights, the heart-wrenching and hilarious true story of an American city on its knees and a man who will do anything to save it.

A Prayer for the City is acclaimed journalist Buzz Bissinger's true epic of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, an utterly unique, unorthodox, and idiosyncratic leader willing to go to any length for the sake of his city: take unions head on, personally lobby President Clinton to save 10,000 defense jobs, or wrestle Smiley the Pig on Hot Dog Day—all the while bearing in mind the eternal fickleness of constituents whose favor may hinge on a missed garbage pick-up or an overzealous meter maid. It is also the story of citizens in crisis: a woman fighting ceaselessly to give her great-grandchildren a better life, a father of six who may lose his job at the Navy Shipyard, and a policy analyst whose experiences as a crime victim tempt her to abandon her job and ideals. "Fascinating, humane" (The New Yorker) and alive with detail and insight, A Prayer for the City describes the rare combination of political courage and optimism that may be the only hope for America's urban centers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Buzz Bissinger's A Prayer for the City

New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
Finalist for the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award

"An extraordinary book, an insider's account of the daily workings of a big-city administration." —The New York Review of Books

"A fascinating, humane portrait of the ills of urban America." —The New Yorker

"A full-scale portrait of a struggling American metropolis that brings to mind such classics of urban reportage and analysis as J. Anthony Lukas's Common Ground and Nicholas Lemann's The Promised Land." —The New York Times Book Review

"Brilliant and compelling. A Prayer for the City movingly captures the poignancy—the hope and heartbreak—of urban government in America." —Robert A. Caro

"There has never been a better portrait of how a big city functions and how one mayor operates to push, pull, and prod the cement of bureaucracy as well as the souls of individual citizens toward a better place. This is actually more of a novel than it is current history, filled with insight and anecdotes that make you feel good about politics and people, too." —The Boston Globe

"Superb. . . . Bissinger's writing, sparse and urgent, always shines." —The Miami Herald

Andrew O'Hehir
When Ed Rendell was elected Philadelphia's mayor in 1991, journalist Buzz Bissinger was uniquely placed to chronicle what looked like a turning point in the city's history. A colorful and controversial former district attorney, Rendell was among the first of the reform-minded Republicrats who were swept to power in city after city in the early '90s (the wave culminating, of course, with New York's ubiquitous mayor, Rudy Giuliani).

Rendell entered City Hall facing a billion-dollar budget deficit, an immediate showdown with city unions over a new contract, the impending closure of the historic Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, critical mismanagement of the public schools and public housing and the continuing attrition of jobs and middle-class residents in an atmosphere of rising crime and crackling racial tension. In Rendell's phrase, Philly was in imminent danger of becoming "Detroit without the automobiles" -- and the incoming mayor had promised Bissinger (whose widely praised first book, Friday Night Lights, was about high-school football in small-town Texas) complete behind-the-scenes access to his administration as he tried to reverse the city's fortunes.

Given this setup, you'd really have to work hard to produce a compelling drama of big-city Realpolitik in the era of government downsizing. Alas, work hard Bissinger does, muddying his narrative with turgid prose and inflated similes straight out of Danielle Steel and padding the book with endless tangential discourses on the minutiae of local history and the decline of civilization. (He fills an entire paragraph with the names of ships built in Philadelphia.) As his breathless subtitle suggests, Bissinger apparently believes he has to make his story into a pulp thriller in order to convince anyone to read it, and municipal politics simply don't offer those kinds of pleasures. His brief sketches of four ordinary Philadelphia "heroes" (the fifth is actually Rendell's principal aide) feel unfocused and artificial, while his portrait of Rendell is curiously incomplete; after spending upwards of 300 pages with the mayor, I'm still not sure whether to view him as a hero or a caustic hothead with an evil neoliberal agenda.

At the outset of A Prayer for the City I was longing for the perception and insight that a Joan Didion or Michael Lewis would have brought to this intriguing project, but by the end I would have been content with the simple declarative sentences of a capable newspaper reporter. Didion has written that the task of a political reporter is "to observe the observable," which is much harder than it sounds. Bissinger ultimately has some valuable observations about the Disneyfied "audience economy" being forced on our inner cities, but he's so much in love with his own writerliness and pat social analysis that precious little of "the observable" manages to sneak through. -- Salon

Library Journal
There's lots of buzz about this book from Bissinger, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose Friday Night Lights was a best seller. Here, he examines Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell's bid to turn around his city.
Robert Fishman
[This] full-scale portrait of a struggling metropolis...brings to mind such classics of urban reportage and analysis as J.Anthony Lukas' Common Ground. -- The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.91(d)

Meet the Author

Buzz Bissinger is the author of A Prayer for the City, the New York Times bestseller Three Nights in August, and Friday Night Lights, which has sold almost two million copies to date and spawned a film and a TV series. He is a contributing writer for Vanity Fair.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
November 1, 1954
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; Nieman Fellow, Harvard University, 1985-1986

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Prayer for the City 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
not much insight given on ed rendell or the city of philadephia. don't get to know the man or the city.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like any city, Philadelphia faced a myriad of problems....the book took a facinating look into the life of a big city mayor and the political process at the local level....as a native Philadelphian I could understand the problems facing the city....but this book could apply to any city.......especially in the Eastern U.S.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought it was a really good book, entertaining and educational. I plan on working in the public sector, and this book gave me inspiration.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You do not have to be a political junkie to enjoy this book. Anyone interested in urban issues, taxes, crime, and the personal stories behind politicans and every day people must read 'A Prayer for the City.' Rather than just telling the story of Ed Rendell's historic and moving transformation of the City of Brotherly Love, Bissinger took a different approach. The author instead told the same story, but molded it together with the behind the scenes, gripping, real-life accounts of the lives of individuals struggling for survival. The author tells of the mayor's handling of various situations, as tied in with the stories of a battle-weary homicide prosecutor, down-and-out lower income families, a laid-off dock worker, the children of fallen police officers, the mayor, and his closest staff members and advisors. Don't delay... read 'A Prayer for the City' as soon as you can. It will open your mind and your heart to the plight of those struggling through life in such and environment as well as with the governing body of cities in America today.