Picks and Pans Review: A Prayer for the City

updated 04/06/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 01:00AM

by Buzz Bissinger

Lincoln Steffens, the turn-of-the-century author, once called Philadelphia "the most American of our greater cities." And when a feisty lawyer named Ed Rendell took over as mayor in 1992, its problems were as troubling as any American city's: street crime out of control, a dearth of jobs, atrocious public housing and a moribund urban bureaucracy.

Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger—whose 1991 book. Friday Night Lights was a brilliant glimpse of high school football in small-town Texas—spent Rendell's entire first term watching behind the scenes as this impressive but flawed politician tried to save his city.

Written with grace, humanity and life-affirming irony (one moment Rendell is reacting to a 15-year-old's murder conviction, the next, trying to rescue a beauty pageant), this compelling book offers evidence that it will take more than conviction and political derring-do to answer our big cities' prayers. (Random House, $25.95)

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