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Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  335 ratings  ·  60 reviews
From the host of NPR's "Morning Edition," a deeply reported portrait of Karachi, Pakistan, a city that illuminates the perils and possibilities of rapidly growing metropolises all around the world.
In recent decades, the world has seen an unprecedented shift of people from the countryside into cities. As Steve Inskeep so aptly puts it, we are now living in the age of the "
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 1st 2011 by Penguin Press
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(showing 1-30 of 951)
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Ryan G
I like to think I'm pretty smart and that I have a decent grasp on world history and current geopolitical events that are shaping the world we live in. Then I see or read something that makes me realize I really don't have a frickin clue. These are the moments that I both live for and dread. I love them because they help me remember that I will never stop learning, that there is so much out there for me to discover that I'll never get bored. On the other hand, it's almost too much to comprehend. ...more
Mikey B.
This is a lucid portrayal of a city that has expanded enormously and beyond recognition since 1945. There are not many cities of over 10 million inhabitants where one can state that. Even Tokyo, which was fire-bombed during World War II, still had a much larger population than Karachi in 1945.

Mr. Inskeep examines some of the current events in Karachi such as the bombing and subsequent riots of December 28/2009. But he also delves into the past and the complex history of Pakistan which has underg
Fatima Afridi
I approached this book with skepticism just like the woman (from Karachi) who approaches Steve Inskeep at the Doha airport in the epilogue of the book. Not even for a moment did it feel like a foreigner had written this account of my home city. I wouldn't call it unbiased, it was striking that Steve actually sounded sympathetic and even affectionate (as the end approaches) to Karachi and it's resilient citizens. It was heartening to read such a love-filled account of Karachi. It also felt like I ...more
As a Karachi native, I consider myself forever connected to that tangle of a metropolis even though I moved to Chicago at a year old and have lived here ever since. It is a notoriously tumultuous city, a microcosm of mismanagement, violence and instability. Despite my deep personal interest in Karachi, its history and current state are difficult to unravel and daily changes impossible to follow. Having read Steve Inskeep’s “Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi,” I cannot recommend it highly e ...more
KARACHI is a new type of city - rising from obscurity as a 19th century village under the English Raj, to a major colonial outpost, to the capital of one of the world's most populous nations, having swollen to 30 times its 1940s population by 2010.

This journalistic snapshot of Karachi not only provides a portrait of the life and history of this unique city, but also some theories about other developing cities - Urumqi, Manila, Dhaka, Mexico City, Lagos, and so forth.

Karachi, and other such citie
Innskeep's study of Karachi suffers a little from multiple personality disorder, but all of those personalities (to extend the analogy) are pretty charming and interesting. He has a couple of competing narratives here - at times, the book wants to be a study of the rise of the myriad of "instant cities" that have grown up since the end of World War II, and Innskeep argues that these cities offer opportunities to help us better understand the challenges and opportunities of 21st century life, par ...more
On a recent trip to Cairo, I was amazed by the incredible unplanned, unregulated growth into the desert. A review of this book made me think that it might help me to understand how such a situation could develop, and it certainly did. More than that, it helped to explain the political chaos of recent events. This is a wonderfully readable book about a fascinating part of the world.
Wonderful read. Highly recommended. "But when the public interest was neglected and the environment was destroyed, then private interests too, would be steadily and inexorably destroyed" summarizes what is happening in Karachi and all over Pakistan.
David Bales
A very detailed and interesting book about Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, with the background of the city's history, how it started as a small port city cultivated by the British in the nineteenth century, and its evolution into a massive metropolis of 13 million people. Inskeep builds the narrative around a terrorist attack during a Shiite religious procession in 2009 as a metaphor for all of Pakistan's problems, its conflicting ethnic clashes, tensions and horrific poverty. He interviews sc ...more
Fairly quick read for a work of non-fiction, Instant City is a well-researched and overall interesting book. As someone fairly well-versed with the history and socio-politics of Pakistan, I didn't find it particularly eye-opening, but it was still interesting enough that I finished reading it in 2 days. Inskeep writes with affection and without judgement. Most hearteningly, he explores the history of the city without obsessing over Islamic extremism, while still acknowledging the heartbreaking v ...more
Susanne Rockwell
Wow. I wanted to learn more about Pakistan to understand the dynamics underlying the country. Inskeep does a beautiful job, anchoring this story with bombings in Karachi, and then doing the forensics on history, people, economics and religion to explain it. This was the NPR anchor's first book. Comments promoting the book in the forward talk about inskeep's courage in reporting for this book. You have to read it to appreciate it. I finished it admiring his ability to show how some people in the ...more
The book really wasn't what I expected it to be. I was under the impression that the book was about the December 2009 bombing in Karachi as based on the back of the book and other sources that I read about.

Instead, Inskeep takes a look at the city--how it came to be what it is in the present day. I listen to him on NPR and follow him on Twitter and fully expected to come away liking the book. Instead it's a pretty dry reading. Some of his writing is quite engaging, but as I realized that the bo
Excellent book that reviews Karachi from its murky beginnings to its frightening present in an easy to read style filled with fascinating characters from the city's residents.
Ishmael Seaward
Towards the end of the book, there is this memorable statement from a psychiatrist: "...massive numbers of people in Karachi were suffering from post-traumatic stress, or PTS, the kind of mental anguish popularly associated with survivors from a war... Many people responded to Karachi's trouble by living in a lower gear, limiting the ambitions and moving about like the living dead. They'd lost hope."

In 2010, the law that established governance of the city expired, leaving the city with no mayor
Rock Angel
I had expected an anthropological survey of pop migration, I was wrong. This is more a like a really really steady gaze into Karachi's development as an example of instant cities.

We barely got into the birth of K as Pakistan's capital by ~p.60, pretty slow going for an outsider like me.

The author does not: 1. fully make a case for y Karachi is better suited for the study of instant cities than others; or 2. truly match the POV of a native. Yet it is probably still worth a read.

i've only gone 5
Amanda M.
Over the summer while I was pretending to be an adult teaching in Boston, I would often turn on Morning Edition while puttering around my apartment in the hope that hearing about the catastrophic collapse of our financial system would have the same effect as drinking a few cups of coffee (Starbucks is expensive; terror is free.) After this became an essential part of my admittedly geriatric morning routine, I started to grow attached to the disembodied voices serenading my frantic last-minute le ...more
Recommended. Great insight into the complexities and intrigues of one of the world's largest cities. The author gives us his definition of an instant city, lists several of them, past and present, then gives many of the individual stories that make up Karachi. The author chose a single event, an attack on a Shia parade two years ago, and explains how that event is linked with so many other facets of modern Karachi. He makes some keen observations on discrimination and how that determines so much ...more
Abram Conrad
'Instant City' reads as a case study of a case study of a larger worldwide occurrance. Looking at the bombing of a religious procession in late 2009, and using it to highlight the issues with instant cities in the 21st century (ethnic mixing, lack of city planning, lack of clear governance, poverty), Inskeep also looks at Karachi as an emblem of the trend of the late 20th and early 21st century. The growth of instant cities - cities whose growth has dramatically outstripped the growth of their m ...more
Carly Thompson
Fascinating book about current Karachi, Pakistan and the forces that shaped it into the city it is today. I especially like Inskeep's discussion of instant cities--cities that rapidly increase their size. In the case of Karachi, the rapid increase in population absent zoning regulations and a corresponding increase in sewage and electrical facilities has made city life horrible for many the poor migrants. I really enjoy reading about the development of cities and urban policy and found this book ...more
Steve Inskeep's Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi was a fascinating weaving narrative. As a matter of writing, Mr. Inskeep is a better NPR reporter than he is an author. His effort here is not tiresome but the repetition begins to try the patience of a reader at times (especially in the beginning of Instant City).

Beyond the modicum of difficulties with his writing, Inskeep's effort is quite adequate at constantly drawing the reader further into the story of Karachi. Instant City's judgment
I expected to like this book more than I did, but it was still worth reading. Inskeep does provide an insightful look into the history of the city of Karachi - which takes him down paths to explore decolonization, India-Pakistan, ethnic violence, religious violence, urbanization, poverty, development, gender, terrorism, and other pertinent subjects. Even so, the pacing of the first half of the book left something to be desired, so it felt like it was taking forever to move through the text. Fina ...more
Samir Sagar
As an Indian, I am well aware about events that shaped modern India post partition but I had never given thought to anything happening on the other side of the border. This book, while explaining Karachi, really explains a lot about Pakistan.

As you read, you cannot help but compare both the countries. The people and their problems are almost the same on both sides. A lot of difference in the governance though. The funny thing is that reading this book made me respect Indian politics, for all it
Sep 29, 2013 Bob rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bob by: Jim Russell
A fascinating look inside the "instant city" of Karachi, where we lived from 1958-1962, and which has grown from 400,000 in 1950 to 13 million in 2008. Like Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about Mumbai (another "instant city") the daunting view of the abusive socio-economic-political morass and its impact on ordinary people is frightening but real; add in the Shi'a vs. Sunni internecine religious wars that leave hundreds dead on the streets every year, and the instability of both ...more
Ayesha U
Instant City briefly chronicles the history of Karachi from 1947 until 2010. It was interesting to know how plans were made for constructing middle class suburban colonies for accommodating refugees and how those plans never materialized. Not many people know that there was a plan to construct a huge casino as well, that would have brought handsome revenue since once, Karachi was a major tourist attraction in Pakistan. Instant City also talks about the ethnic, religious and political strive and ...more
Michael-Ann Cerniglia
Inskeep weaves an intricate description of setting, characters, and events that set the scene for a bombing in Karachi on December 28, 2009. Ultimately, the booming city and its complex historic and cultural roots provide the backdrop to the instant city we see today and the complex problems that we read (and do not read) about in the paper about Karachi and the country of Pakistan. An excellent book to understand Karachi, another view of the India-Pakistan Partition, and the issues of urbanizat ...more
Raza Syed
It's a interesting book full of interesting facts about Karachi and some keen observations by Inskeep. Unfortunately at times it's all over the place, there are too many directions this book keeps on going in (like a stumbling drinks - 2 steps forward 1 step backwards). Maybe its done on purpose as that's What Karachi in its brief history has acted like.
It's not a bad book but I wished it explained things more then just touching topics and moving on. The actual rating should be 2.5 Stars but I w
The first 5 star read of the year! An urban planning/policy book masquerading as a history of modern Karachi. Inskeep interviews lots of fascinating people and fleshes out his travels and conversations with them with well-researched discussions and explanations of Pakistani history. Instant City does an excellent job illustrating the religious, ethnic, and political divides that are often difficult to grasp from newspaper accounts. In spite of all of this seeming dryness its a very engaging read ...more
Very readable, this book provides a succinct analysis and history of Pakistan today via the microcosm of Karachi. A good, quick read for people looking to understand Pakistan better without delving into a minutely detailed and scholarly tome (of which there many on the market these days). Inskeep makes no claim to be an expert on Pakistan, but his curiosity about Karachi provides the impetus for what I would consider a good go-to book to get a quick fix on this country that confounds so many of ...more
Michael Dobe
Instant City is a great narrative that brings to life the complex, diverse and fascinating modern history of one of the world's fastest growing cities. Steve Inskeep's familiar voice from National Public Radio comes through in his writing, making for a very enjoyable read. We've got a hard bound copy in our own IHC library. Highly recommended for students, faculty and staff. Here's a link to an interview he did with C-SPAN for some background info:
The author managed to weave together an astonishing number of subjects and keep them all discrete and interesting. The two main themes are the history of Pakistan & the Karachi area since partition, and the way cities are struggling to handle huge growth all over the world; along the way we get to hear from lots of normal people just out to do the best they can. I didn't know many details of Pakistan's history, and Inskeep told them in a fascinating, relatively understandable way.
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