As much as I tend to loathe politics, I’m a secret political-process junkie. I don’t usually like politicians, but I love learning the ins and outs of how government actually works. That said, I was huge fan of A Prayer for the City by Buzz Bissinger; I think it is one of the best books I have read this year.
A Prayer for the City follows the first term of Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell. Bissinger was granted 24-7 access to the mayor and his staff, and spent four years following the administration as it battled an out-of-control budget, overly powerful unions, and racial tensions that threatened to tear the city apart. At face value, I think those topics actually appear a little bit boring, but Bissinger has a way of making them fascinating.
In some ways, Bissinger lucked out because he was given an incredible story to tell. Rendell is a complicated character put into an almost impossible situation, but you want to see him find a way to save the city. To Bissinger’s credit, he doesn’t mess up the story, and in fact does a good job of carrying the complicated narrative through the book. He does this by profiling a number of Philadelphia residents to show how Rendell’s policies and choices affected the average person.
A Prayer for the City isn’t a light book. The issues are tough and depressing, and ultimately I don’t think Bissinger leaves the reader with a very optimistic view of what comes next for this city, or any city for that matter. Despite the heaviness of the topics, I was completely drawn into this book and would highly recommend it. A Prayer for the City is a thoughtful and unique example of the true stories that great literary journalism can tell. You can read more of my gushing about this book on my “Happy Birthday, Buzz Bissinger!” post.
Links to Enjoy:
- “Brotherly Love and Other Fictions” — a review in Business Week
- “Philadelphia Tries Everything” — a review in The New York Times
- “Books: A Prayer for the City” — a review from Salon
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!