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A Prayer for the City
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A Prayer for the City

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  986 ratings  ·  111 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published December 29th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1997)
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  986 ratings  ·  111 reviews

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Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, cities, nonfiction
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
Aug 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nina by: Mike Nadol
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
Nov 17, 2011 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 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.
Jan 29, 2016 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
Jun 27, 2008 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
Deborah Sullivan
Oct 29, 2008 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
Nov 01, 2007 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
Feb 03, 2016 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
Jan 10, 2008 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.
Sep 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
One of my all-time favorites
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.
I quote here a recent column from George Will (not my cup of tea, but whatever) talking about L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti - Although presidents Andrew Johnson , Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge had been mayors of Greeneville, Tenn., Buffalo and Northampton, Mass., respectively, no mayor has gone directly from a city hall to the White House. But the 44th president came from eight years in the nation’s most docile and least admirable state legislature (Barack Obama effectively began running for p ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
My son (who lived in Philadelphia for two years while attending graduate school at Temple) gave me this book because he wanted me to understand more about what had happened to the city in the nineties, after it hit rock bottom. Mayor Ed Rendell and his chief of staff, David Cohen, did some pretty remarkable stuff to turn things around in a city that was a mess--crime, debit, you name it. I liked reading about these very different men and their ways of attacking problems and serving their city. I ...more
Aug 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I liked the intimacy of the account. A bit like watching 'The Wire' if not as well executed.

At times I felt like the treatment of the city's racial dynamics was fairly one sided but never dishonest or disingenuous. He gave an honest account of the Rendell years in Philly from the perspective of the Rendell administration, and he did spend time on the history of cities in the 20th century and how race played a huge role in outcomes (federal housing policy/redlining/etc). That was a high point.

Lucas Westmaas
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at city administration. A book that would be very different if written today, particularly in (a) some discussions about policing and criminal justice and (b) the over-casual attitude towards sexual harassment and other inappropriate workplace behaviors. Recommend for people interested in Philly or in local government as long as you keep that in mind.
Ryan Murtha
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Really interesting look at how difficult it is to run a major city, though the racist and classist views of both the author and those he profiles are readily apparent.
Darryl Murphy
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Required reading for anyone doing impactful work in the city.
May 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Such a 90s book. My goodness.
Jul 13, 2010 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
May 20, 2010 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
Barbara Poppe
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very enjoyable and informative read. If you love cities, urban policy, and history, this one is for you.
Jeffrey Cohan
Jan 05, 2011 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
Greg Otto
Sep 08, 2010 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
John Alexander
Sep 19, 2014 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
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, history
I was eager to read this because I moved to Philadelphia during Ed Rendell's first term and now work for the City. Although I'm glad I read it, I was disappointed.

One issue I had with the book is Bissinger's writing style. He's a good writer, with ability to convey both narrative and characterization, but he suffers from a need to artificially dress up his prose. The metaphors were so frequent (e.g., two in two sentences) that they became intrusive and the resultant artificiality clogged up his
Oct 20, 2011 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
Jan 28, 2011 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
Mar 14, 2012 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
Justine Philyaw
Jun 22, 2011 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
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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.