Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

After returning home from my research trip to Bangalore and Mumbai last month, I read Catherine Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in obtaining a picture of how real life—work, living, eating, sleeping, everything from the best and worst of human activities that we all are familiar with on some level—exists for Mumbai’s poor. 

The book follows several families whose lives are wound up together.  While a major drama plays out, lots of subplots reveal fascinating details about Indian society, including its legal and political systems, policing, schooling, nonprofit organizations, and so on.  In this way it reminded me of one of the best TV series of all times, The Wire.  (Watch the most classic economics scene from that show on price elasticity is here).

However unlike The Wire, and although this book reads like a novel, it is not a fictional account. 
I don’t usually read books like this one (by this I mean narratives, I almost never read fiction) but it was very timely for me to read given the just-completed research trip.   However I’m going to make a point to remember that non-economists sometimes write books from which I can learn something interesting! 

In addition to being an interesting read, I’m sure most people will find reading it a saddening experience at times.  After all it is a story about some of the poorest people on earth.  The book may inspire generosity in some people.  If I could find a good orphanage, it would be very easy for them to convince me to make a donation!  Of course as the book highlights, it is hard to know who to trust.

All in all, a great book that many different types of readers will find worthwhile.