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Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  10,232 ratings  ·  739 reviews
A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. He approaches the city from unexpected angles, taking us into the criminal underworld of rival Muslim and Hindu gangs; following the life of a bar dancer raised amid poverty and abuse; opening the door into the inner sanctums of Bollywood; and delving into the stories of the countless ...more
Paperback, 542 pages
Published September 27th 2005 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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Riku Sayuj
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Tanuj
Recommended to Riku by: Rajat Mathur

Maximum City: In A Theatre Near You

A native of Bombay, Suketu Mehta gives us an insider’s view of this stunning metropolis. - The cover boasts, without blushing.

Assume that you don’t know Mumbai. You have never lived in Mumbai. You might have bought ‘Maximum City’ thinking you would get a comprehensive idea on how Bombay works. But yet, the Mumbai you know and the Mumbai Suketu Mehta ‘finds’ are uncomfortably similar. Why? Both comes from Newspaper headlines and Movie stories - it is the sensati
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
It is considered a great book by many on Bombay – now Mumbai. The writer shows us what makes this city unique and different from other big cities in India. He goes on to give very detailed information on how the city operates. It is the mafia, slums, Bollywood, corruption that makes the city a 'Maximum City.' There are certain sections of the book that I enjoyed reading. When this book was written, there were powerful politicians who ruled the city. One name that immediately comes to mind is tha ...more
Mar 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Circa 1992. It was a regular school day on a lovely December morning(winters are warm not cold in Bombay).With just an hour left to mid-morning recess, there was a sudden flurry of anxious announcements calling certain students to report immediately with their belongings at the Principal’s office. After being little nosy about the happenings I go back to my daydreaming. Suddenly, I see my mother hurriedly demanding that I go and collect my younger sister from her classroom. As I walk through th ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
I toyed with creating a new category for this book: "Nonfiction Stranger Than Fiction." But no. Some of the stories and experiences of people that this book chronicles do seem very far-fetched (say, to mention just one out of several dozen, the former newspaper cartoonist who becomes boss of one of the strongest Hindu fundamentalist parties in the country – an Indian Rush Limbaugh – and who provokes some of the most violent riots in the country’s history.) But it is all believable once you recog ...more
Wow, people love this book, people hate this book! What a coup to have fawning quotes on the back cover from William Dalrymple, Amitav Ghosh and on the cover from Salman Rushdie. How could I not love this book? Mostly because it is 600 pages long!

Really it covers a huge amount of ground. The book is divided into three parts. Power is the first, and this part covers the topics of the authors personal geography and his mixture of Bombay and American lives; then goes historical with the 1992/3 riot
As someone who grew up in the 90s in Mumbai, I lived in my middle class bubble, broken only by the riots and the rampant street sexual harassment. I watched the city take a rebirth with a new name, just one of a re-naming spree around the country. But though I knew that there were things going on, they were just somewhere out there and nothing to do with me. With Maximum City, Suketu Mehta brings those 'things' right under your nose making them hard to ignore.

Maximum City is about the shadow wor
Sep 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: world
In spite of this book being lavished with positive reviews both in the press and here on Goodreads, I found it incredibly boring. I leap-frogged my way through it, skipping chunky tracts as I skimmed its 600 or so pages. The bits that interested me discussed the infrastructure and practical problems of the city of Mumbai, which is massively over-populated, has substantial slums, and has some bizarre laws regarding accommodation. The bits that bored me were the long journalistic reports of the au ...more
Anusha Jayaram
May 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: absolutely-hated
This is one of the toughest books I've ploughed through. That's because every page I turned just ended up increasing my irritation with Suketu Mehta. Let me say this upfront: this the most hypocritical, sanctimonious, pretentious purported writer I have *ever* come across, and Mehta's voice throughout this book disgusted me.

Perhaps even more important to state is this: that this book is potentially dangerous.
To an uninitiated reader, the misrepresentations, and biases (glaringly obvious to me)
Maura Finkelstein
Aug 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone who likes pornography
I'm fascinated by the hype over Mehta's travelogue. This book portrays women as objects, poor people as criminals, and the Bollywood elite as deserving the resentment of a bitter New York based writer who can't quite find a place in the city of his youth.
So I'm struggling to understand what all the hype is about.
This is not, contrary to what reviews would lead us to believe, a book about Bombay. Instead, it's a book about being an outsider, and it does a decent job grappling with alienation and
Yigal Zur
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mumbai is a fascinating city. i can not say that i ever liked it. too big, too chaotic but i felt drawn to understand it. Mehta give a lovely view of the interesting and intriguing stories of the city.
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Indophiles Travel readers history buffs south-asian enthusiasts and watchers
I had heard about the book for a while now but just managed to pick the book few months ago at the airport during a business trip.

I loved the book mostly because I am from bombay as well and just like Suketu, I have moved to Bombay and back few times in my life. Everything in the book was very real for me and there were times when it felt like he literally took words out of my mouth. I would highly recommend this book to Indophiles, Travel readers and even history buffs. There are few things I
Sep 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was a mixed bag for me. There is some great narrative in Mehta's tale of his return to the city of his youth as an adult. His description of learning how to navigate the corrupt bureaucracy in order to get enough cooking gas for his new flat was priceless. But as he begins to delve more deeply into explorations of politics, organized crime and the sex trade, particularly his growing friendship with a bar girl, the narrative outlasted my interest. I really enjoyed certain sections of th ...more
Oct 31, 2007 marked it as will-i-ever-finish-these-books
I'm having a difficult time finishing this book. I usually read it for a few days and then need a break due to the overwhelming detail and drama that Mehta inserts into his prose. I honestly liked the beginning of the book in which Mehta made me feel as though I could see Bombay: crowding around a street stall for the best food in town, the need to bribe every public official for every little (and big) convenience, the dearth of toilets, the omnipresent din, the rich, the poor, etc. But now I'm ...more
Jashan Singhal
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Take all the travel memoirs, travelogues and any book written on cities all around the world and try to rate them from top to bottom. Guess which book will be at the top? This one. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

Bombay/Bambai/Mumbai is a city where I have spent some of the indispensably important years of my life and it is a city of many firsts for me. Surprisingly, this city not being my native home, or where I live currently, is the closest to what I think of as home. The author managed to
Jun 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book is pathetic. All the author did was rent a bunch of hindi movies and rehashed them in detail. I simply can't understand the positive reviews--especially those of Indian readers, who have probably seen these movies over and over. The similarities are so striking, some of the dialogs have been quoted--verbatim. Not to mention the drivel at the beginningof the book-Mr.Mehta should be ashamed of himself for delving onmicro castism. In today's day and age only an incredibly regressive kind ...more
Mirnalini Venkatraman
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
I have taken the longest time to finish a book. Not because it wasn't interesting, because the book was long and had so many details to consume. It has close to 500 pages in the tiniest of the font, but how much research has gone into this brilliant book.

The book starts on a cynical note with his personal experience of relocating to the city where he was born and lived for a while. But once he starts narrating the lives of the various people he has met over the course of 2yrs, it really keeps u
Sairam Krishnan
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary. Just extraordinary. Enough has been written and said about this book, there's no need for me to add any more. But I'll yet say this: Bombay really did deserve a book of this sweep and magnitude, and it needed a writer like Mehta, who was willing to go deep into the heart of this 'great, ruined metropolis'.

Just one gripe: I hope the next reprint of Maximum City is better produced than Penguin's woeful India paperback edition, which I read. This book deserves better, with perhaps a
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
I can't say I've ever had a strong desire to move to Bombay, but this book was convincing enough that I safely believe it not the place for me. But, there's a certain subconscious, almost sadomasochistic draw to the place - as if moving there would be a particularly creative form of (potentially physical) suicide to the person I am today. Like Los Angeles - only 10 times stronger.

I came to this book via Mehta's interview in the Believer. He seemed a funny, smart guy and I figured his book would
Sean McKenna
Jul 23, 2013 rated it liked it
My goal in reading this book was to get some context about Bombay before visiting for the first time. I realized that the book was not itself a history of the city but I had hoped that there would be sufficient background provided to help me understand Bombay as it exists today and then to illustrate some of the ways in which it is unique. I probably should have done more research on the nature of the book since it mostly failed to meet my goal.

The bits of historical context ended up being few a
Apr 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Finally finished this 500+ page magisterial work on India's largest city, Mumbai to most, but still Bombay to Suketu Mehta, who was raised in the city and now lives in New York. This *is* Bombay, in all its beautiful, frustrating, dazzling, harrowing, filthy, dizzying glory. As Mehta tells it--and how brilliantly does he tell it!--this is a city of extremes: extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme vice and extreme religiosity; oftentimes the two coexisting side by side. This is a city where ...more
In the latter half of Maximum City, a man by the name of Babbanji is reported to have suggested naming this (then yet-to-be-written) book "Untold Life", saying that
There is plenty of discussion about the lives of the rich, but nothing is spoken about the lives of the poor.
That one statement accurately summarises the problem with Mumbai. It also capsulises the fault of this book, the least of which is that it ended up being named what it is.

It is perhaps my unorthodox approach to Suketu
Mar 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Friends, people interested in India/South-Asia, folks who love reading about cities
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
I rather haphazardly stumbled across Maximum City in an airport bookshop a couple months back and boy am I glad I did, because it perfectly hits one of my literary sweet spots: a fascination with modern cities. It's a well-researched and very detailed look at Bombay (or, as many call it now, Mumbai) as it exists today in all its tremendous beauty and unparalleled horror. Suketu Mehta has a wonderful talent for downloading a tremendous amount of information while also writing utterly fascinating ...more
Jun 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
This is an awful, shallow book. Quite honestly I couldn't get past the underworld part of the book. Suketu Mehta has made the most of his Bollywood connections. That part was such a hackneyed collection of anecdotes, all eerily similar to various scenes from much-watched Bollywood movies about the criminal element in Bombay. I question how much research Mr. Mehta has really done for this part of the book - apart from watching the aforementioned movies. Perhaps Mr. Mehta read one of the leading I ...more
Sreejitha Sasikumar
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
I just skimmed through its pages. There were too many informations given. Only after reaching half way did i realize it's a non fiction. The book is a good read if you want to know about Bombay, politicians, gundas, Lafdas, terrorists and about riots. What I felt was more emphasis is given on these matters rather than focusing on Bombay as a whole. Bombay is unique than most of the cities in India. These riots and gang wars are not what Bombay is made of. But of those millions of people who are ...more
Aug 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who has a love affair with big cities.
Shelves: favorites
Another incredible book on Bombay (I think I need to move on to another city). More raw than Shantaram and a few parts sensationalized (in my opinion), but an amazing account of the many layers and faces of Bombay, that made me even more fascinated and in awe of how the metropolitan megalith manages to stay afloat. My favorite quote: "You can go home again, and you can also leave again. Once more, with confidence, into the world." (It spoke to me. :)) ...more
A Man Called Ove
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travelogue
3.5/5 Shiv Sena, Police, Underworld, Bar dancers, Bollywood, a few portraits of the common men and some comments on life in the city. For a fat 600+ page book on a city, this was very limited in scope. I felt the lesser known Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began on Chennai was better structured and well-rounded but it felt a little short. Maximum City sits at the other extreme and I felt bored at times with the repetitive and excessive detailing of the lives of gangsters and bar dancers. Mayb ...more
Frank Stein
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A lot of purple prose here, but some of it is really justified. After all, when you're surrounded by Muslim gangsters, Jainist monks, underage call girls, and Bollywood movie producers, all set against the backdrop of one of the world's strangest and filthiest cities, you're allowed to use a little literary hyperbole.

Mehta's a journalist who returns to his hometown of Bombay to explore the underworld and write some in-depth portraits of its denizens. He does a great job of it, even though he him
Harish Rajamani
Jan 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
As someone who grew up in Bombay (yes, I left about 7 years ago, so I'm still able to resist calling it Mumbai) I should say that I did not identify with everything in this book, but the essence of it appealed to me, I think. While I felt that the book looked at the city with (what seemed intentionally) a foreign eye, I would say to its credit that this did not hinder my ability to identify with the book, as much as my own ignorance of the many layers of Bombay, growing up as a kid.
I've always
Aug 06, 2012 rated it liked it
If you can not relate yourself with Mumbai, probably you will not like it. If Mumbai makes you curious, even just by movies, you will love good portion of the book.

I loved part 1: Power. Suketu writes a gripping tale of riots, underworld and Mumbai police's interrogation and encounters.

Chapter six made me yawn. I didn't find description of Irani hotel menu interesting.

Chapter called "A city in heat" is good read which takes you in the world of night bar girls.

Chapter "Distilleries of Pleasure"
Vikas Lather
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I did not know Balasaheb Thackeray was a fan of Michael Jackson, now I hate him little less. Ironically, Thackeray quoted that article 19-A, 'defines us all as Hindustanis', no wonder why they like violence because they do not care to read and make of everything whatever they like :p

The city of Bombay has found a sophisticated biographer in Suketu Mehta. Mostly people would remember Maximum city as a creative non-fiction; but for me, it has become an epitome of tremendously courageous journalism
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Suketu Mehta is the New York-based author of 'Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found,' which won the Kiriyama Prize and the Hutch Crossword Award, and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, the Lettre Ulysses Prize, the BBC4 Samuel Johnson Prize, and the Guardian First Book Award. He has won the Whiting Writers Award, the O. Henry Prize, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship for his ...more

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