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A revised edition of the classic story of race and power, set in Chicago during the 1980s, when this most political of cities elected its first black mayor

Fire on the Prairie

Harold Washington, Chicago Politics, and the Roots of the Obama Presidency

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Revised Edition with a Foreword by Clarence Page and an Introduction by Larry Bennett Photographs by Marc PoKempner

Gary Rivlin

"Like Mike Royko’s Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago, Rivlin’s chronicle of Washington’s rise and power struggles has weathered the test of time as a classic Dickensian portrait of big city politics amid seismic racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic change."
from the Foreword by Clarence Page

Harold Washington's historic and improbable victory over the vaunted Chicago political machine shook up American politics. The election of the enigmatic yet engaging Washington led to his serving five tumultuous years as the city's first black mayor. He fashioned an uneasy but potent multiracial coalition that today still stands as a model for political change.

In this revised edition of Fire on the Prairie, acclaimed reporter Gary Rivlin chronicles Washington's legacy—a tale rich in character and intrigue. He reveals the cronyism of Daley's government and Washington's rivalry with Jesse Jackson. Rivlin also shows how Washington's success inspired a young community organizer named Barack Obama to turn to the electoral arena as a vehicle for change. While the story of a single city, this political biography is anything but parochial.

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Excerpt

Read Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

Praise for the first edition:

"Colorfully, intimately, Fire on the Prairie shames and instructs as it entertains, weaving a skein of anecdotes and vignettes into a civic conversation about race and power."
Jim Sleeper, Washington Post Book World

"Fire on the Prairie is a master journalist’s fascinating chronicle of the Harold Washington mayorality elections and the intervening ‘Council War’. The book is rich in intriguing behind-the-scenes incidents. Rivlin makes the reader live those years."
Leon Despres, Chicago Sun-Times

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Contents

Foreword to the Revised Edition by Clarence Page
Introduction to the Revised Edition by Larry Bennett - Forging Barack Obama: Harold Washington, Chicago, and the Politics of Race
Acknowledgments
Prologue

BOOK I A Racial Thing, 1983
1. A Cry in the Wind
2. The Conspirators
3. The Chosen
4. The Catalyst
5. The Jesse Jackson Factor
6. The Family Business
7. The Liberal Apology
8. A Tower of Babble
9. A Racial Thing
10. Positively Antebellum
11. A City Divided

BOOK II Council Wars, 1983–1986
12. The Biggest Bully in the Bar
13. Balancing Acts
14. Beirut on the Lake
15. Black Reform, White Reform
16. The Chicago Experiment
17. A Midterm Blunder
18. The Continuing Saga of Clarence McClain

BOOK III Something Less Than Hate, 1986–1987
19. The Reckoning
20. Any White Will Do
21. Thy Kingdom at Hand

Note on Sources
Index

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About the Author(s)

Gary Rivlin is the author of five books, including Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business, and a former staff reporter for The New York Times, where his beats included Silicon Valley and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Wired, and Fortune, among other publications, and also the Chicago Reader, where he worked as a staff writer during the Harold Washington years.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Race and Ethnicity
Urban Studies


In the series

Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy, edited by Zane L. Miller, David Stradling, and Larry Bennett.

Urban Life, Landscape, and Policy Series, edited by Zane L. Miller, David Stradling, and Larry Bennett, features books that examine past and contemporary cities, focusing on cultural and social issues. The editors seek proposals that analyze processes of urban change relevant to the future of cities and their metropolitan regions, and that examine urban and regional planning, environmental issues, and urban policy studies, thus contributing to ongoing debates.

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