John Keay

The India Gate

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found


Review 497pp £20 order from our bookshop

Bombay deserves a big bustling book and this is it. After a couple of chapters I felt badly in need of a bath, and by page 350 the narrative had strayed so far into the slum colonies that even the proofreader appeared to have turned back. The city may not be the largest in the world (it all depends on how you define the scale of these urban agglomerations), but at somewhere between 14 and 18 million its population will soon overtake Australia’s and may already be twice Sweden’s. Packed onto a tongue of land about twenty miles long with water on three sides, it is certainly the most compressed of cities. Crowds here provide the measure of everything and afford a rich diversity of human psychology. Their struggles articulate Maximum City and their dreams enhance it. Short on both history and architecture, the book barely qualifies as the biography of a city; but for a city of biographies it’s the perfect vehicle. A livelier portrait of Bombay today could scarcely have been fashioned.

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