Maximum City

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Maximum City - Bombay Lost and Found
Maximum city
Author Suketu Mehta
Country India, worldwide
Language English
Genre narrative nonfiction
Publisher Penguin
Publication date
Media type Print (Paperback and Hardback)
Pages 584 pp (paperback first edition)
ISBN ISBN 978-0-14-400159-0 (first edition, paperback)

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found is a narrative nonfiction book by Suketu Mehta, published in 2004, about the Indian city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). It was published in hardcover by Random House's Alfred A. Knopf imprint. When released in paperback, it was published by Vintage, a subdivision of Random House.


The book combines elements of memoir, travel writing as well as socio-political analysis of the history and people of Mumbai. Mehta writes as a person who is at one level outsider to this magnificent city and on the other hand is the one who is born here and has lived his childhood in the city then known as Bombay. As a person who comes back with his experience of returning to the city as an adult, as well as a parent and resident. His family left Mumbai for the US in 1977, settling in the Jackson Heights, section of Queens, in New York City.

Mehta's return to Mumbai as an adult details his frustration with everyday day life in a developing nation. He frankly describes the slums and how they can crop up anywhere, even alongside the railroad tracks. In explaining the slums and squatting, Mehta delves into the politics of modern Mumbai: the party divisions along Hindu versus Muslim lines, the criminal Mumbai underworld and the impact of the shocking 1993 Bombay bombings. He meets with murderous gangsters as well as prominent politician Bal Thackeray of the right party Shiv Sena to give the reader the fullest view of a city seemingly too large to have boundaries.

The book culminates in the story of a Jain diamond merchant family. The Jain Diamond merchant methodically renounces his material life and sheds his wealth and family ties to spend the rest of his life as Jain Monk or wandering ascetics.


Maximum City was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and won the Kiriyama Prize, an award given to books that foster a greater understanding of the nations and peoples of the Pacific Rim and South Asia. It won the 2005 Vodafone Crossword Book Award. The Economist named Maximum City one of its books of the year for 2004. It was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize.

Reviewers' quotes[edit]

“In Maximum City, Suketu Mehta has given us a brilliant book. He writes fearlessly about the horror and wonder that is Bombay. One by one, he reveals its multiple personalities: maleficent Bombay, bountiful Bombay, beckoning temptress of hope, manufacturer of despair–city of dreams and nightmare city. Best of all, reading this book helps one understand why Bombay can be an addiction.” – Rohinton Mistry, author of Family Matters and A Fine Balance

“Quite extraordinary – Mehta writes about Bombay with an unsparing ferocity born of his love, which I share, for the old pre-Mumbai city which has now been almost destroyed by corruption, gangsterism and neo-fascist politics, its spirit surviving in tiny moments and images which he seizes upon as proof of the survival of hope. The quality of his investigative reportage, the skill with which he persuades hoodlums and murderers to open up to him, is quite amazing. It’s the best book yet written about that great, ruined metropolis, my city as well as his, and it deserves to be very widely read.” – Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight's Children and The Moor's Last Sigh

“Mehta writes with a Victorian novelist’s genius for character, detail, and incident, but his voice is utterly modern. Like its subject, this is a sprawling banquet of a book, one of the most intimate and moving portraits of a place I have read.” – Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies

“Stunning . . . the account–fierce, engaged, coruscating–of a curious outsider who became, for two years, an intimate insider . . . [Mehta] explores the underside of the city with the inquisitiveness of a voyeur, the sensibility of a poet and the zeal of a private investigator. Mehta is none of those things and yet, like the best writers, he is all of them.” – Shashi Tharoor, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Mehta is an urban ethnographer with an acute sensitivity to the peculiarities of his city . . . This fidelity to his interlocutors, and to their detail and circumstance, as much as the intelligence and brightness of Mehta’s own prose, makes Maximum City an extraordinary debut – a debut that will rival Arundhati Roy’s in fiction.” – The Nation

“[Mehta’s] sophisticated voice conveys postmodern Bombay with a carefully calibrated balance of wit and outrage, harking back to such great Victorian urban chroniclers as Dickens and Mayhew.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In his new book, Suketu Mehta writes an epic biography of his childhood city, and it’s as luscious as a cold mango lassi on a sweltering day . . . Through his fluid writing, he establishes the culture and modern history of a city torn by Hindu-Muslim strife, but where culture and beauty still flourish . . . A vivid and textured portrait of Bombay.” – New York Post

“The passions and secrets of the throbbing megalopolis come alive as Suketu Mehta steps into its back alleys and dance bars, its fantasy factories and drawing rooms . . . Every city has its chronicler . . . now Bombay gets its Boswell, his chronicle as sprawling and enchanting as his subject.” – India Today

“Suketu Mehta has done the impossible: he has captured the city of Bombay on the page, and done it in technicolor. Like Zola’s Paris and the London of Dickens, it will be difficult for me to visit Bombay without thinking of Maximum City and the enormous delight I had when I inhabited its pages.” – Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country and The Tennis Partner

“Along with V. S. Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now, Maximum City is probably the greatest non-fiction book written about India.” –Akhil Sharma, author of An Obedient Father

Maximum City is the remarkable debut of a major new Indian writer. Humane and moving, sympathetic but outspoken, it’s a shocking and sometimes heartbreaking book, teeming with extraordinary stories. It is unquestionably one of the most memorable non-fiction books to come out of India for many years, and there is little question that it will become the classic study of Bombay.” – William Dalrymple, author of White Mughals and In Xanadu

“Like one of Bombay’s teeming chawls, Maximum City is part nightmare and part millennial hallucination, filled with detail, drama and a richly varied cast of characters. In his quest to plumb both the grimy depths and radiant heights of the continent that is Bombay, Suketu Mehta has taken travel writing to an entirely new level. This is a gripping, compellingly readable account of a love affair with a city: I couldn’t put it down.” – Amitav Ghosh, author of In an Antique Land and The Glass Palace

“Brave, honest, and addictive: Maximum City is narrative non-fiction at its best. Mehta de-exoticizes as he mesmerizes, finding humanity in killers, actresses, and civil servants, and leading us inexorably to the sight of our own reflections in the fractured mirror of his great city, Bombay.” – Mohsin Hamid, author of Moth Smoke

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