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A Prayer for the City

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  772 Ratings  ·  97 Reviews
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
Paperback, 448 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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A Prayer for the City by H.G. BissingerThe Geography of Nowhere by James Howard KunstlerThe Power Broker by Robert A. CaroLondon Under by Peter AckroydVictorian London by Liza Picard
Urban History
1st out of 39 books — 9 voters
The Power Broker by Robert A. CaroThe Price of Thirst by Karen PiperCity of Quartz by Mike DavisHolidays in Hell by P.J. O'RourkeWhy It's Kicking Off Everywhere by Paul Mason
Great Reportage Books
30th out of 47 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,425)
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Jun 18, 2016 Emily rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, cities, 2016
This was certainly an odd choice for me to read while on vacation, i.e. not in Philadelphia, but such is the library hold queue.

The author spent four years embedded in the first administration of Ed Rendell as Philadelphia mayor (1992-95) and wrote about all the highs (rescuing the budget) and lows (losing the Navy Yard). He had total access to Rendell and his chief of staff David Cohen, whom I liked better after reading this book because I've only heard of him as the the chief lobbyist of Comc
Feb 15, 2015 Nina rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nina by: Mike Nadol
Shelves: politics, urbanism
If you loved the West Wing TV series, there are good chances that you’ll like this book. The author somehow finagled permission to be a fly on the wall during the Ed Rendell’s first term as Philadelphia’s Mayor (1992 – 1995), embedding himself in the Chief of Staff’s office, sitting in the shadows during executive meetings, even listening outside the door during tense confidential negotiations over navy yard reuse proposals. Readers are granted shockingly unfettered access to the internal workin ...more
Laura Leaney
Dec 29, 2011 Laura Leaney rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laura by: Matt Peyton
What Bissinger has written is both paean and elegy to the once grand, once thriving American city. The focus is Philadelphia, but the story represents the plight of all the large urban centers across the country - cities whose "revitalized" downtowns are deceptive, "a brocade curtain hiding a crumbling stage set."

It's hard to believe that Ed Rendell, newly elected mayor of Philadelphia, would allow Bissinger to follow him around for four years, giving him access to meetings, policy debates, and
Feb 18, 2010 Noah rated it it was amazing
I don't know if a better book has been written about local politics. This book may be one of the best ones I've read about politics, period. It's a dizzying portrayal of a big city mayor trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of public employee unions, the media, state and federal government, job loss, white flight, and more. It's both engrossing and deeply depressing. Not perfect (Bissinger lays it on a bit thick sometimes), but overall I loved it.
Feb 03, 2016 Stephen rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fun if you live in Philadelphia because he cites many places in the city.
Buzz Bissinger is too passionately intense. I had to read this in graduate school and I have an autographed copy, dated 9.8.98 within a week or so of starting the official program. I went to school at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. He wrote for the Inquirer, the morning paper. It is about the amazing turn-around orchestrated by Ed Rendell. Philadelphia has gone to hell in the proceeding 15 years - neoliberalism is to blame. I am sure. And a few Republican administrations in bet ...more
Jul 01, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing
I grew up in Philly, spent 16 years of schooling there, and now live in South Jersey and still work in Philly. I learned more about the city during the 1.5 weeks I was reading this book than I did in all that other time combined. The depth of the reporting, the range of stories covered, the ability to sort through reams of information-- it's all really impressive.

But it's not just a Philly book-- it's a book about the slow decay of the American city and the ways people have tried to combat that
Dan Bostrom
Oct 06, 2008 Dan Bostrom rated it liked it
Shelves: novelties
I read this at the same time I was watching the first two seasons of "The Wire" from HBO. Both of them tell stories about post-industrial cities struggling to find a life-line into the 21st century.

A friend of mine assured me the other day that the City will be reborn in the 21st century but I'm not quite so sure. As I live in Milwaukee and see all the problems a City like this faces, it becomes quite daunting.

I think Ed Rendell can be categorized as one of those hero-humans who does the best h
Mar 06, 2008 John rated it liked it
As an inside look at how politics gets done in a big city, this is pretty much unparallelled, and all of its observations about how cities have been abandoned and screwed over are pretty much right on the money.

So why didn't I like this? I think Bissinger's writing is pretty unimpressive - the whole thing has these weird macho New Journalism airs about it, which I recognize as an attempt to spice things up but feels a little overcompensating. Nevertheless, it's 100% necessary reading for unders
John Alexander
Sep 19, 2014 John Alexander rated it liked it
An intimate portrait of philadelphia from 1989-1993, the first term of the Rendell administration. Bissinger covers the experience of Philadelphians from center city to north philly, the navy yard to Chestnut Hill, tracking with Rendell's first-term challenges as examples of the common plight of post-industrial American cities. One upshot is that 20 years later it seems like Rendell's first term represented the nadir of those crises. The industrial jobs never came back, but the tourist industry ...more
Deborah Sullivan
Dec 09, 2008 Deborah Sullivan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If you love cities read this. To understand how the American city has been methodically undermined by public policy throughout the 20th century and to see an exceptional pair of men fight the good fight through their own flaws, read this. Very well-written book about the first term of Mayor Rendell in Philadelphia. I live in the city and love the city and this broke my heart, but left me hopeful that there are still people in public service who want cities to survive and maybe, someday, thrive a ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Mark rated it it was ok
There's a good book to be found in the text of this book; the political chess-playing on its own would make a three-, maybe four-star book. But as it's presented, Bissinger's too fundamentally dishonest and crowd-pleasing in his presentation for this to merit serious consideration as meaningful nonfiction. He seems to lack all respect for his presumed audience, between his narrative gimmicks and the sheer transparency of his emotional manipulation; it comes across as an insecurity in the strengt ...more
Jan 10, 2008 tanya rated it it was amazing
details of the operations of a unique city and it's unique mayor. details the life and times of ed rendell (then mayor, now governor) and makes you idolize the man- if your a hard working liberal that is. even if you don't like rendell, you'll learn a lot about him and a lot about what has happened to make philadelphia the way it is today.
The author was given complete access to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell during his first term and the book shows the inner workings, both the good and the bad, of running a big city.
Jun 02, 2015 Alexys rated it it was amazing
A fascinating look at politics and the city of Philadelphia during the first term of Ed Rendell. I was a child growing up in philly when Rendell was mayor, and I remember thinking of him as a good guy. He was the guy trying to help, trying to make a difference. This book was an incredible read, giving me a new view of events I did and didn't remember, a look inside the building that affected not only my family's lives, but those of an entire city's population. I saw truth that persists today in ...more
Jan 10, 2016 Whit rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorites
Sep 08, 2015 Nathan rated it it was amazing
Bissinger’s book is enthralling: Robert Caro calls it “brilliant and compelling” and the late David Halberstam compared it to J. Anthony Lukas “Common Ground.” Ringing endorsements from the titans of 20th century non-fiction are well-deserved, but A Prayer for the City did not sell like Friday Night Lights. Nor is it required reading for college students learning the basics of 20th century urban history, chronicling a time period that academia has not overly obsessed over, let alone given much a ...more
Jeffrey Cohan
Apr 20, 2011 Jeffrey Cohan rated it it was amazing
Give a great nonfiction writer like Buzz Bissinger unfettered access to a colorful and complicated politician like Ed Rendell and you’re going to get an amazing book.

I don’t hand out five stars too often but “A Prayer for the City” probably deserves six.

This inside look at Rendell’s first term as mayor of Philadelphia is much, much more than a biography of a politician, although it’s a darn good biography. More than anything else, “A Prayer” is a heart-wrenching lamentation about our country’s b
Aug 17, 2013 Kellyann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
I've heard the rave reviews for this book but honestly didn't expect to love it so much. Firstly, I'm not a big fan of books about politics or the workings of government. I tend to read for pleasure and escape. Secondly, my knowledge of this author is almost solely due to the tv show, which i loathe, based on his other book. So imagine my surprise when i sat down with it and looked up to realize i'd read about 1/4 in my first sitting. Obviously, a big draw is the fact that multiple of the neighb ...more
Feb 09, 2011 Ammie rated it really liked it
I decided to read this because I don't know much about city-level politics, even less than I know about other types of politics. The author, Buzz Bissinger, spent four years--1992-1995, an entire term in office--following around Ed Rendell and David Cohen, the mayor and chief of staff of Philadelphia. It's a book about Rendell, about his massive and at times almost unbearably painful struggle to rescue his city before it capsized, but it's also a book about Philadelphia and the larger subject of ...more
May 20, 2010 Kirsti rated it really liked it
Buzz Bissinger doesn't do things halfway. When he wrote Friday Night Lights, he transplanted his entire family to a small town in Texas for a few years. When he wrote A Prayer for the City, he spent over four years shadowing the mayor of Philadelphia and the mayor's top aides. Bissinger fleshes out Prayer with chapters on other Philadelphians. He includes a displaced dock worker, a prosecutor, a disillusioned member of the Rendell administration, and a woman who had raised her children and her g ...more
Jul 13, 2010 Joan added it
" . . . he understood exactly what a city was about -- sounds and sights and smells, all the different senses, held together by the spontaneity of choreography, each day, each hour, each minute different from the previous one."

Oh, the city, the city! I am an urban person. I lived in the suburbs for years and it was hell. You couldn't walk anywhere because there were no sidewalks. There was too much "new". There was too much alike. Your neighbors were just like you. When I drove into the city, th
Greg Otto
Nov 22, 2010 Greg Otto rated it it was amazing
This book could be placed alongside the television series "The Wire" as the sobering tale of why American cities are doomed. Bissinger does more than wade through the politics and bureaucracy of urban areas, he shows the end game - what those politics mean for the citizens who call cities home. Often, its either, too little, too late or both.

While the book chronicles a mayoral term in the early 90s, you could very easily apply the characters and settings to any present-day major metropolitan ar
Jun 11, 2012 Kristin rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this close examination of 1990s Philadelphia politics. I have a new respect for the progress made during my teenage years to resurrect Philly from the status of dying east coast city. I also felt a strong sense of nostalgia reading about the demise of the naval yard and thinking about how my own grandfather raised a family of 7 children while spending his career there. Buzz Bissinger has an eye for using close observation to craft a story of Rendell's monumental campaign. I ...more
Aaron Marks
Aug 01, 2015 Aaron Marks rated it really liked it
Gripping as the Friday Night Lights TV show; fascinating look into city politics in the early 90's, with some fascinating analysis (of which I would've appreciated more) about FDR-era federal housing policy's influence on city demographics the next 60 years. Makes me wish B.B. was also around to cover Street + Nutter. He synthesizes four years of a major city's events into a digestible ~350 pages, without feeling at any time like a superficial gloss. Looking forward to reading more Bissinger.
Justine Philyaw
Jun 27, 2011 Justine Philyaw rated it really liked it
In the interest of full disclosure, I must first say that I am a life-long resident of Philadelphia, and I love this city. I also need to say that when I was finally old enough to vote, Ed Rendell is one of the first candidates I helped to elect. And now, if Ed decided to try another public office, I'd vote for him every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Those opinions were only reinforced by Bissinger. I knew that David Cohen was basically the brains behind the Rendell machine, and I found ...more
Jonathan Hawkins
Jul 16, 2015 Jonathan Hawkins rated it it was amazing
This is a phenomenal read for anyone who is interested in Philadelphia, cities, urban decay, and the intricate inner workings of local politics. It should also serve as a guide to those who think that voting doesn't matter or that all politicians are the same of just how much of a direct impact the decisions of lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels can have on the lives of individuals.
Aug 30, 2015 Du rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-govt
this is a really good look at Philly, Ed Rendell, urban policy and local politics. The author has a really even flow to his words and it is a clear nod to west wing style walk and talk writing and action.

I'm really glad this was suggested to me. it has so much to offer that I hadn't thought about before as an interest in getting shit done at a policy level. great read.
Adrianna Addicks
Jul 18, 2016 Adrianna Addicks rated it it was amazing
A glaring look at Ed Rendell- I appreciated the depth and detail Bissinger wrote. It can be heart breaking to read about all of the violence that Philadelphia experienced in the 90s, not so different from what we are experience today. If you're a political junkie and a fan of city politics, I recommend this book.
Victoria Chow
Jun 15, 2012 Victoria Chow rated it it was amazing
Bissinger's career as a journalist makes him the perfect writer of non-fiction; he does what every journalist should aspire to do--make anything interesting. In his portrayal of Ed Rendell, the mayor of Philadelphia during the 1990s, Bissinger makes the politics, hardships and triumphs of Philadelphia come alive. The story behind the story is even more fascinating, that he was allowed complete access to the mayor and his staff for the five years he compiled information for this book. Bissinger's ...more
Kara Goldman
Jul 06, 2015 Kara Goldman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a fourth generation Philly native (dad's side). This book paints a really intricate portrait of the city ands its major players. It's a time investment - it's a lengthy, detailed work, but well worth it if you know Philly and/or have an interest in cities.
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H.G. Bissinger has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Livingston Award, the National Headliner Award, and the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel for his reporting. The author has written for the television series NYPD Blue and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He lives in Philadelphia.
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