Urbanography review of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”

Urbanography book review of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

I read this captivating book last year to learn more about India. This was partially due to the fact that Bombay (Mumbai) has always fascinated me and also because my oldest son was engaged (now married) to a woman who is half Indian.

Bombay, New York, Montreal, Stockholm, Singapore, and several other great cities around the world were founded on an island. When possible, most eventually spread onto other islands and/or the mainland. This topographic feature creates many unique challenges in itself. What Maximum City brought to the forefront for me were the many other issues that challenge a mighty metropolis regardless of its geographic flair.

These challenges include social, political, educational, religious, economic, cultural, and engineering issues among many others. In Bombay’s instance, coalescing 20 million people into an efficient and functioning unit is not easy. It could be argued that most cities are still working at achieving such a goal.

Maximum City was intriguing because it explored  those aspects of the city that local civic boosters typically refrain from discussing. The religious and social-economic rifts that have formed under a gleaming exterior persona and occasionally make they way to the surface in outburst of anger and violence. The book also explored some of the personal and sexual  stereotypes in Indian society.

Many important issues are addressed by Mr. Mehta in this book. One that struck me as especially poignant was the seeming indifference towards the loss of life among many of the city’s denizens.  At one point, the book notes a jaw-dropping statistic that approximately 4,000 rail commuters die each year riding Bombay’s system because poor souls hanging onto overloaded rail cars fall, slip, or are struck by objects along the tracks. Could you imagine the outcry here to such a figure?

I highly recommend this book, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. It will definitely open your eyes in much the same way that Slumdog Millionaire did for moviegoers.

This entry was posted in architecture, art, book reviews, cities, culture, diversity, economic development, environment, health, history, homelessness, land use, planning, poverty, transit, transportation and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Urbanography review of “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”

  1. John Cruz says:

    People hanging off rail cars? I guess I never gave much thought to what happens in Bombay rail systems (or even that Bombay had rail systems for that matter!). I’ve seen the 3rd world images of people hanging off buses, but this is just madness. I just picked up a copy on amazon so I can check it out for myself, thanks for posting the review.


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