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Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi Hardcover – October 13, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The opening reads like a sophisticated thriller... It's in the ordinary fates of the ordinary people that {Inskeep} finds the extraordinary spirit of Karachi... Not many politicians read books in Karachi, but if they were to read one, let it be Instant City." -- Mohammed Hanif ("A Case of Exploding Mangoes"), Publishers Weekly

"Steve Inskeep has written a magnificent, engrossing book... His voice reflects the best traditions of politically alert travel writing, endowed with calm wisdom and curious empathy." - Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars and The Bin Ladens

"Instant City is one of the best books ever written about Pakistan, with everything a combination of travelogue and political commentary should have.... This book will challenge everything you thought you knew about Pakistan and the region.  Stop watching the damn news! Read this book now." -- Anis Shivani, Huffington Post

"Inskeep tells the story of a single violent and volatile day in the teeming streets of Karachi, Pakistan. In doing so, he reveals what is now at stake not just for Pakistan, or Asia, but for the human species. This is thoughtful, important work." - David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire and Treme and author of Homicide and The Corner

"Inskeep writes with dramatic flair. He introduces us to the city through a day in its life and, because this is Karachi, the day is a violent one.. The sequence of events reads like a movie script...For those exasperated and puzzled by Pakistan, "Instant City" is an excellent introduction." - Akbar S. Ahmed, Washington Post

"The same set of mesmerizing storytelling skills, journalistic integrity, and downright courage that Inskeep brings us daily on NPR makes for a gripping read." -- Martha Raddatz, ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent

"Inskeep seemingly looked at everything and talked to everyone. He finds the promise of Karachi, 'the most powerful force in the instant city; the desire of millions of people to make their lives just a tiny bit better than they were.'  Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city." - Kirkus Reviews

"Inskeep takes us on a colorful journey through a sprawling, terrifying city... Impressively structure and briskly told, Instant City is the Friday Night Lights of terrorism." -- Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble

"Informative, ambitious, chaotic, and sometimes glorious... Plunging into the immensity of Karachi and its mushrooming population, Inskeep finds individuals selflessly dedicated to improving life in their beleaguered city." - Rayyan Al-Shawwaf, Christian Science Monitor

"Inskeep has captured the vibrant, violent, pulsating rhythms of Karachi with a near native sensibility. His cinema verite prose brings you the sights and smells of this dystopian megalopolis on which the future of Pakistan may be riding." - Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within

About the Author

Steve Inskeep is a co-host of Morning Edition, the most widely heard radio news program in the United States. After the September 11 attacks, he covered the war in Afghanistan, the hunt for Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan, and the war in Iraq. He won a National Headliner Award for investigating a military raid that went wrong in Afghanistan and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for a series on conflict in Nigeria. This is his first book.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (October 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203156
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203152
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Denny on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
First time author, Steve Inskeep, NPR radio announcer and reporter takes on Karachi. Readers may already know (and if they read "Instant City") they will for certain, Karachi is at "the other end" of Pakistan.

Karachi is a port mega-city on the Arabian Sea. Most terrorism incidents that have occurred in Pakistan in the last decade have been in the northern part of the country, near or along the Afghanistan border. The terrorism incident that occurred in downtown Karachi is a central theme that Inskeep will keep returning to.

Inskeep provides historical background on the partioning of of Anglo-India, "the jewel in the crown" of former British colonies, into Pakistan, East Pakistan and India, which occurred in 1947. India was to become the predominant home to Hindus and the two Pakistans, to Muslims. Later, East Pakistan left the fold in rebellion to become the independent nation of Bangladesh. The mass movement of people following the partitioning of Anglo-India involved the migration of literally hundreds of millions of people in both directions. The rise of Karachi as an "Instant City" is a direct consequence of this mass movement. The process continues, driven now primarily by internal migration, rural agrarian-to-city.

Inskeep's background as a reporter is both a strength and a weakness of "Instant City." Inskeep meets and interviews scores of people whose stories he tells. It's a journalistic style of writing that while providing highly personal narrative often results in redundancy. The overall flow is often choppy and disjointed. A good fifty pages could have been cut from "Instant City" to make for a more concise read with a tight focus.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm fascinated by Pakistan, so I snapped up "Instant City" since I know that the subject of the book, Karachi, is a microcosm of many of the problems besetting Pakistan.

For the most part, I was not disappointed by the book. Reading it, I learned a great deal about the rise of Karachi from minor colonial outpost to teeming Third World metropolis. Inskeep's history of the terrible sectarian and religious violence besetting the city was particularly interesting and heartbreaking.

However, as one other reviewer here has already pointed out, the book is somewhat choppy in terms of the narrative. Also, despite promising to focus the book on one terrible day in 2009 when a Shi'ite procession was attacked by Sunni extremists, Inskeep wanders pretty far afield from that narrative. It's all generally interesting, but if you say you intend view your subject through a particular lens, you ought to stick to it.

But overall, the deficits of "Instant City" are outweighed by the pluses,so read it and learn something.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
`Instant City' captures the essence of Karachi. It takes the readers into the history and transformation of Karachi as it details the events of a horrendous day in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a religious procession. Karachi is no ordinary city and it's impossible to encapsulate its complexities in a mere 200 pages. However, Inskeep does justice to the subject matter. Instant City is a wonderful book and a must read for those who wish to broaden their understanding of the developing world. Karachi is the backbone and melting pot of Pakistan - a country riddled with uncertainties and one at the nexus of modern day geopolitics.

Another aspect that renders credibility to this book is the authenticity and nonpartisan approach of Steve Inskeep. Inskeep's fascination and intrigue with Karachi is apparent and his outstanding ability to present facts objectively is ever present in his interviews with personalities from varied backgrounds. This is crucial to understanding Karachi's diversity and how its multilayered outlook shapes its destiny. In addition to delving into the historical, cultural and political transformation of Karachi, Instant City explores its mammoth growth. It is interesting to read how the city owes its sustenance to improvised mechanisms that somehow defy the conventional wisdom of urban planning.

As a Karachite, I am extremely fascinated and excited about this book and feel sincerely indebted to Inskeep for this wonderful effort. He is a wonderful reporter and has convincingly demonstrated his writing skills in Instant City. It is a fabulous read and highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Steve Inskeep is an excellent reporter! I listen to him on NPR over WXXI Rochester. This is an account written by Inskeep of ONE day in Karachi. It captures the trauma, the influx of people, and is a fascinating account of what's going on in the Middle East.
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Steve Inskeep made several visits to Karachi in recent years, and researched their complicated and violent history (and present). He tells the story of the region with a focus on various individual stories. Inskeep is an excellent story teller, which is necessary with the real life traumas of this report.
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Format: Paperback
After reading "Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi," I affirmed my belief that I will never fully understand life in the Middle East. The moral code from my upbringing gives me a lens from which to view the world. Yes, I can consider others' lenses and how they see the same events, activities, ways of being, etc., but even in my wildest imaginations, I cannot see how or why violence would be inflicted on innocent people, including those who are trying to help the victims, some of which might be your own family or friends. I suppose I consider it an innate part of our animal nature that we work to protect ourselves, our friends, and our allies.

Having said all of that, I plunged into this book and gained a much better understanding of life in Pakistan in general and Karachi specifically. I had not considered fully the effects that the speed of change can really impact one's culture. I had not considered the possibility that the needs of the masses could quickly render a government totally ineffective or even superfluous to existence. These lessons and others are now part of my repertoire of knowledge.

One thing I know for certain: I will never think of ambulance drivers in the same way I have in the past.

Another thing I know for certain: the mysteries of some cities, some cultures, and some societies can never be fully solved.
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