A fascinating and timely tour of Mexico City

With its 20 million residents, who live in 5,000 neighborhoods that sprawl out over nearly 600 square miles, Mexico City beggars description. Somehow, David Lida’s meticulously reported survey, First Stop in the New World, manages to do it justice.

Lida — an American journalist who has lived in Mexico City for almost 20 years and writes for the local equivalent of The New Yorker — devotes most of his chapters to narrowly circumscribed subjects (street food, slang, transportation, violent crime, and so forth). But his is also a deeply personal, highly affable book, grounded in interviews and encounters with hundreds of locals (or chilangos): taxi drivers, homeless kids, talk-show hosts, kidnapping negotiators, wrestlers, and the private dancers (or ficheras) who work Mexico City’s bars. The result is a brilliant and necessary tour of an unbelievably complex, contradictory, and compelling metropolis.

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A fascinating and timely tour of Mexico City