A Prayer for the City

( 4 )

Overview

Current Affairs/Urban Studies

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

A Prayer for the City is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger's true epic of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, an utterly unique, unorthodox, and idiosyncratic leader who will do anything to save his city: take unions head on, personally lobby President Clinton to save 10,000 defense jobs, or ...

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Overview

Current Affairs/Urban Studies

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

A Prayer for the City is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger's true epic of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, an utterly unique, unorthodox, and idiosyncratic leader who will do anything to save 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. Heart-wrenching and hilarious, alive with detail and insight, A Prayer for the City describes a city on its knees and the rare combination of political courage and optimism that may be the only hope for America's urban centers.

"A Prayer for the City gives a unique insider account. . . . [It] is a superb book. . . . Bissinger's writing, sparse and urgent, always shines . . . and his narrative crackles with descriptive force." —The Miami Herald

"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 Promised Land."
—The New York Times Book Review

"What we see through Bissinger's unique lens is profoundly touching and inspiring, poignant and sad. . . . If you really want to feel the heartbeat of the American city—and find a source of hope for its revival—you will find it here." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Editorial Reviews

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.
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679744948
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 297,407
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Buzz Bissinger

Buzz Bissinger spent five and a half years writing this book, during which time he had exclusive access to Mayor Ed Rendell's administration. From 1981 to 1988 he was a reporter at The Philadelphia Enquirer, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, and later he worked for the Chicago Tribune. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1985-86 and is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. He is the author of the acclaimed bestseller Friday Night Lights.

Biography

Award-winning journalist and bestselling author H. G. ("Buzz") Bissinger has an undeniable knack for capturing the rhythms of life in big cities and small towns alike. While working as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he and two colleagues shared a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for their six-part investigative series on corruption in the city's court system. A year later, reports of "the winningest high school football team in Texas history" led Bissinger to the economically depressed and racially divided town of Odessa, where he followed the team in question, the mighty Permian Panthers, on their quest for the state championship. Upon its publication in 1990, Friday Night Lights became an instant classic -- a cautionary tale about the dangers of sports obsession that remains required reading in many American high schools. It was filmed in 2004 and inspired a critically acclaimed television show.

Bissinger shines at "immersion journalism." Granted unlimited access in the mid-'90s to then-mayor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell, he crafted a superb behind-the-scenes account of Rendell's uphill struggle to rescue the decaying city from economic decline. Published in 1998, A Prayer for the City became a New York Times Notable Book of the year. Then, in 2005, he parlayed his relationship with Cards manager Tony La Russa into the bestseller Three Nights in August, an intriguing view of major-league baseball filtered through the lens of a three-game series between the rival Cubs and Cardinals.

In addition to his bestselling nonfiction, Bissinger has produced in-depth articles for a variety of publications -- most notably Vanity Fair, where he works as a contributing editor. Among his best-known pieces are an exposé of Stephen Glass, the disgraced New Republic reporter fired for journalistic fraud; a probing profile of the merciless, mercurial radio shock jock Don Imus; and a poignant story about the life and death of the great thoroughbred racehorse Barbaro.

Good To Know

Some fascinating outtakes and fun facts from our interview with Bissinger:

"One of the inspirations for my becoming a writer was the baseball board game Strat-O-Matic. I started playing it as a kid when I was ten or eleven. The game featured individual cards for every player in the major leagues. The results were incredibly realistic and after each game I would sit down at my typewriter and type up a game story as if I was writing for the New York Times."

"My grandmother got her law degree from Syracuse University in roughly 1911 and later co-founded with her husband an investment banking firm on Wall Street known as Lebenthal & Co. My parents worked at the firm and so did my uncle. As for my grandmother, she worked at Lebenthal until her early nineties."

"I am the father of twin sons that were born in Philadelphia at Pennsylvania Hospital in 1983. They were 13 weeks premature. Gerry weighed 1 pound 14 ounces, and Zachary 1 pound 11 ounces. They were the first male twins to ever survive at Pennsylvania Hospital. They are thriving today. Talk about miracles."

"I am 5'6" and desperately wish I was taller."

In 1998, Vanity Fair published Bissinger's article "Shattered Glass," an exposé of the career of disgraced New Republic writer Stephen Glass, who was fired for journalistic fraud. The article was later adapted for the 2003 film of the same name.

Bissinger admits to having an "abiding hatred" for the blog-o-sphere. In April, 2008, he appeared on Bob Costas's television series Costas Now and launched an angry tirade against Will Leitch, creator of the sports blog "Deadspin."

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    1. Also Known As:
      H. G. Bissinger
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 1, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1976; Nieman Fellow, Harvard University, 1985-1986

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2006

    okay, but not a great book

    not much insight given on ed rendell or the city of philadephia. don't get to know the man or the city.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2003

    The title fits the book

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2002

    Good Book

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2001

    Philly, Rendell, and the Third Way

    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.

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