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A Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race.

Whether in popular jargon, song or poetry, Chicago is instantly recognizable. It is also easily identified by its systems of patronage and "machine" politics.

To dissect this infamous machine and its impact on the large African-American community, Gary Rivlin pivots Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race on events and personalities surrounding the late Harold Washington's mayoral triumph in 1983. And he introduces a cast of characters worthy of Shakespeare. Political and community leaders, such as City Councilman Ed Vrdolyak, former Mayor Jane Byrne and Jesse Jackson, are central to a tale of racial polarization and political betrayal.

Rivlin, a longtime observer of Chicago's political scene, has a punchy, anecdotal style. The rewarding chapters track the machinations and double-dealing among rival politicians and black nationalists during Washington's first campaign. Riveting moments unfold when Washington battles the pernicious racism of the Chicago media or deftly gains Jesse Jackson's support, but avoids picking up any of his political baggage.

But after Washington's victory the book slows. Too much time is devoted to his conflict with the racially divided city council and too little taken to examine what made him tick. The story of his second campaign is also anticlimactic. The book regains its pace only during his final days and after his death, when the same political intrigues that marked his first quest for mayor surface after his demise.

Herb Boyd Fire on the Prairie: Chicago's Harold Washington and the Politics of Race by Gary Rivlin; Henry Holt and Co. Inc., 1992, $22.50
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Boyd, Herb
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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