Customer Reviews for

Let the Great World Spin

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

21 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

Potent, weakened only by occasional flourishes of melodrama

McCann's latest novel is by turns visionary and gripping, with vividly drawn characters weakened only by brief appearances of writing that reaches too far and ends up squarely as melodrama. As others here have summarized the plot, I'll only add that the characters McCan...
McCann's latest novel is by turns visionary and gripping, with vividly drawn characters weakened only by brief appearances of writing that reaches too far and ends up squarely as melodrama. As others here have summarized the plot, I'll only add that the characters McCann ties together around the Frenchman's remarkable walk between the towers in 1974 -- including a mother/daughter prostitute team, the Irish immigrant priest who selflessly befriends them, and two unlikely middle-aged friends from different races and social classes together recovering from the loss of their sons in 'Nam -- are vividly drawn, with characters and moments that are both complete and moving, and always compelling. The invocations of 9/11 are exceedingly and wisely spare, as McCann allows the tales, and the truth and resonance of the walk, to speak for themselves. The ultimate triumph of the novel, though, is the scenes of the tightrope walker, including his practices in the snow. They are unforgettable, poetic as they are precise.

posted by MacPoster on January 4, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

Interesting, overwritten, polemical

Mr. McCann definitely has the power to impress with his writing. However, the book is so controlled, airless and without depth. You end up loving what it could have been rather than what it is. The characters all are so totally paper thin and mouthpieces to collected wi...
Mr. McCann definitely has the power to impress with his writing. However, the book is so controlled, airless and without depth. You end up loving what it could have been rather than what it is. The characters all are so totally paper thin and mouthpieces to collected wisdom.

posted by Lucy88 on July 3, 2009

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    Potent, weakened only by occasional flourishes of melodrama

    McCann's latest novel is by turns visionary and gripping, with vividly drawn characters weakened only by brief appearances of writing that reaches too far and ends up squarely as melodrama. As others here have summarized the plot, I'll only add that the characters McCann ties together around the Frenchman's remarkable walk between the towers in 1974 -- including a mother/daughter prostitute team, the Irish immigrant priest who selflessly befriends them, and two unlikely middle-aged friends from different races and social classes together recovering from the loss of their sons in 'Nam -- are vividly drawn, with characters and moments that are both complete and moving, and always compelling. The invocations of 9/11 are exceedingly and wisely spare, as McCann allows the tales, and the truth and resonance of the walk, to speak for themselves. The ultimate triumph of the novel, though, is the scenes of the tightrope walker, including his practices in the snow. They are unforgettable, poetic as they are precise.

    21 out of 22 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This novel resonates long after turning the last page.

    Review-Colim McCann, Let the Great World Spin
    In Let the Great World Spin, Colim McCann takes the vision of a man walking on air 110 stories above the ground and recreates a moment in time in 1974. Many seemingly unrelated characters are living their lives in New York as the tightrope walker makes his trip. By the end of the novel, McCann has woven the threads of their lives and the times effortlessly into a loving portrait of a city.
    McCann's characters, as diverse as an Irish monk, a black prostitute, a Jewish judge, his upper class wife, both destroyed by the loss of their son, Joshua in Vietnam, the nerdy computer programmers working near the Towers, the other women of the group who lost their sons in Vietnam, the tightrope walker himself, leap off the page.
    The novel resonates in the reader long after the last page is turned. Triumphant, exuberant, uplifting. Run right out and buy it today.

    14 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    Tour de Force!

    It took me a while to get into this and at first I didn't think I would like it but it blew me away. Such writing!Such characters! Such a kaleidoscopic picture of New York at a point in history! Such imagination, to use the tightrope walk across the twin towers as the central axis! This really is an amazing book.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Let the Great World Spin indeed...

    Great common thread within the story line and a terrific overview of the city of New York, which I tend to enjoy in a book. Characters are very well defined and identifiable. I'm new to this author and quite surprised with how much I enjoyed the book. It's among my new favorites.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2009

    Did not want it to end.

    I just finished the last few pages of this wonderful book. The characters are so well written you feel that you know them beyond the story. Each character has a majesty all their own, something redeeming in the worst and a flaw in the best. McCann is a writer at the top of his craft. This is a book that I will read again and again.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Breath taking

    This is hands down one of the best books I have ever read.
    It is in some ways more than just "a book": there are many books I really liked, books that made me hold my breath and kept me up all night reading, books that live with you even when you're not reading them, but rarely have I had in my hands a book that made me cry, laugh, smile and think, that was so engaging it's hard to put down until you're done reading it, and even after you're done. And I can't quite remember any other book I found myself talking out loud to.
    I'm not quite sure what particular nerves it struck, but yes, it is that good!
    It's amazing how all the different characters' voices are so real, so spot on, as you read them. There are ten stories, ten characters, whose lives cross paths in minor or major ways, on the backdrop of Philippe Petit's walk between the twin towers, and that moment of beauty becomes the 11th story. I would not have been surprised to find out they were real stories, and had been written by 11 different writers, so accurate each story's narrating voice is. And each of the stories is so beautiful, so compelling, so full, and they all are woven into one another, creating a unity, a line of beauty that carries everything throughout the book.
    That is, at the end, what I cherish the most about this novel: the sense that beauty, like tragedy, is inexplicable, doesn't need a reason, you can't really do anything about it. But it's there. There is beauty...

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Incredible Book

    Remarkable book. One of the best that I have read last year.
    The story centers around the feat accomplished by Philippe Petit in August 1974, of stringing a tightrope between the two towers at the World Trade Center, and performing an act on it for a portion of the morning to the delight of the crowd below. It is an event that lifts the City's spirits and thrills the people who witnessed it with the scale and sheer beauty of the spectacle. Without stating it, the event certainly brings to mind the much different reaction of the crowd staring up at the towers on September 11, 2001. (What a coincidence that I finished reading the book on 9/11/09.
    On that same day, several New Yorkers have their worlds suddenly transformed. For some, it is a tragic end. For others, the day starts them on a new beginning. The lives of three groups of the City's residents intersect on that day, and their lives are changed.
    One group consists of several prostitutes who stroll a street by the Major Deegan parkway in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx and an Irish immigrant monk, Corrigan, who has sort of adopted them. It is a barren, dangerous neighborhood. He brings them coffee on the street and leaves unlocked his nearby, sparsely furnished apartment in the projects, so they can come in and use the bathroom when needed. For his efforts, he gets pummeled by their pimps. When he is not looking after the girls, he works at a nursing home, taking a few of the wheelchair-bound residents to the park for a few hours in his old van. There, he meets and falls for a nurse, which challenges his vow of celibacy. His brother has just moved to New York, and he is staying with Corrigan. The brother is critical of how his brother is living and tries to change things, at first.
    The other major group in the book are five women who have formed a support group. They have all lost sons in Vietnam. They come from diverse backgrounds. One lives in the same projects as Corrigan, and another lives in a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, whose husband is a New York City criminal court judge.
    The book also focuses on a young couple, both artists, who have left the City for upstate New York, but who happen to be in Manhattan on the day of Petit's performance. Also, the book spends some time with Petit, as he is preparing for the day.
    The stories of these people are beautifully written. It is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I hope that this book gets the acclaim that it deserves.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful!

    This is a novel of New York City, told in short stories that are linked through shared characters and a connection to Philippe Petit's 1974 real-life tightrope walk between the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. The stories interconnect and encounter characters in subsequent stories, all from different perspectives and with new revelations, the thoughts and observations of the spectators of Petit as he sets out to walk the tightrope between the Twin Towers in. This is such a wonderful, poignant weave of stories that somehow don't seem as complicated as it had to have been to write it. This powerful writing makes perfect sense. Great emotions captured in a wonderful writing style that made the read a pleasure! Wonderful!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Let the Great World Spin is a spectacle of sorts.a visual romp through 1970's New York where the lives of many come together in unusual ways.

    Let the Great World Spin is a collection of stories. Did you know that? I did not. However, the stories are told from several different points of view, and although each character has a very distinct voice, the stories eventually collide with one another leaving the reader standing there, wondering who or what comes next.

    Something terrible happens, and as the chain of events unfold, we view the same event from different perspectives. It's as if the world is spinning in slow motion, and we are forced to look at the bits and pieces that are not normally noticed when time moves at a more normal pace.

    "There is something that happens to the mind in moments of terror. Perhaps we figure it's the last we'll ever have and we record it for the rest of our long journey. We take perfect snapshots, an album to despair over. We trim the edges and place them in plastic. We tuck the scrapbook away to take out in our ruined times."

    Many of these characters are flawed. They are striving for something, and often find themselves on the outside looking in. As they observe the world around them, life as we know it, continues on. As I read this book, I was mesmerized by the author's ability to take me in and out of a character's head. One story is told from a prostitute's point of view, and as I was reading her story, I felt what she was feeling, the frustration, the loss, the helplessness. It was a lonely place to be.

    I know I haven't said much about the plot, but as you can imagine, when something terrible happens, there is a downward spiral that takes place. As things come crashing to a halt, there is no place to go but up. This book is like that. We take the plunge into despair, visit with these characters awhile, and then we're given a small glimpse of what lies ahead. To me, the the plot didn't really matter. I was so absorbed the the internal conflict within each character that plot was secondary to me.

    I love this book. I appreciate this book. I am in awe of this book.

    It has a quiet, understated quality to it that I wasn't expecting. The characters are complex and conflicted and even though some of them may not be the type of people I'd be friendly with, I could relate to many of them. This is the type of book that you can re-read, and see (and feel) something different each time you pick it up.

    I know for some readers, the varying perspective was a source of confusion at times, but once I figured out where the author was going, I had no problem with the different viewpoints.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2010

    Out of the Ordinary, Loved it!

    This was a perfect pick for our Book Club as it evoked plenty of discussion. We found that we all had a certain expectation of the plot based upon reading the first chapter and we all felt a bit lost for the first 80 pages, however once we became resigned to the different view points and that the fate of the tight rope walker would not be immediately known, we were really able to embrace the book and get lost within the characters. I have never read a book that was told from different viewpoints where it never came back around to the same character twice... this left me longing to know more from some of them, a tell tale sign that I was fully engulfed in the fictional world. This book will leave you thinking about stereotypes, friendship, family, fate and death and how regardless of personal drama, humanity moves on.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009

    A work of art.

    Lyrical, touching, beautifully written and felt.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2009

    Interesting, overwritten, polemical

    Mr. McCann definitely has the power to impress with his writing. However, the book is so controlled, airless and without depth. You end up loving what it could have been rather than what it is. The characters all are so totally paper thin and mouthpieces to collected wisdom.

    4 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 16, 2010

    This is a beautifully written book about mostly hopeless characters.

    I thought this was a very very good book. The writing is excellent. I think the author knew someone like Corrigan because the character is so well drawn. Anyone who can recall New York City, indeed most of urban US cities in the seventies, will appreciate the author's research and and his presentation of the mood of the time. The ending is a little "pat", but it offers redemption and hope.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    Ten Stars!

    On a scale of 1-5, this book rates a 10! Set in New York City, the multiple plots revolve around the tight-rope walk between the twin towers in 1974. An international cast of characters, including an Irish monk and his Guatemalan girlfriend, mother and daughter hookers, a Park Avenue mother who has lost a son in Viet Nam, and an Italian physician, reflect the inhabitants of the cosmopolitan city. Interestingly, the fictional characters seem more real than the tight rope walker. Despite themes of sadness and squalor, the book ends on a hopeful note. McCann's prose is a pleasure to read.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Very Long Time to Say Nothing

    "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann is a series of well written short stories, which ultimately get intertwined. These fictional stories happen around the cultural touchstone of Philippe Petit stringing a cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and walking the distance, to the amazement of the people below. The book begins slowly as we are introduced to two Irish brothers on the other side of the Atlantic; Corrigan, a soon to be monk, and his brother Ciaran who has no goals or aspirations. The brothers find themselves in The Bronx where Corrigan takes several prostitutes under his care, brings them coffee and allows them to use his bathroom between tricks. The story expands as the brothers' story crosses aging prostitutes, as South American nurse, a Park Avenue housewife, a budding artist who left her rich Southern family to create art up north and several others. The news that Petit walked between the two towers have eclipsed that of the Nixon resignation and the Vietnam War - even though both are lurking in the background and raising their ugly heads every now and then. McCann uses the tightrope stunt as a way to tie all the separate stories to a memorable day, Petit is not even mentioned by name in the novel. The problem is that it all seems forced, as if the author had a bunch of short stories laying around and added some a few paragraphs to tie them all in a neat package to be bounded up and put on the shelf. McCann uses different voices, styles and speeds while shifting between the stories. Some work better than others as new people keep appearing, each one inevitably linked to the past and the future. That makes a strange mosaic of not only storytelling, but also quality of the writing as some stories are much better than others. Don't get me wrong, there are some brilliant passages in this book, but they get bogged them. I forced myself to finish the book, I wanted to find out what was so great about this book that it made the "best of." list every time. What I discovered was an interesting story, sometimes frustrating, which often seemed more like a rough draft than the finished masterpiece it was promised to be simply because the stories aren't told to the reader, they are being explained. "Let The Great World Spin" is not horribly bad, but not really great either. The stories are amusing but, like the high wire act which they all reference, half are good and the others splash on the pavement. The author is very capable of beautiful prose; however he takes a very long time to say nothing. For more book reviews please visit http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2010

    Let the Great World Spin Book Review

    If there is any novel that can make one anticipate and feel the pain of the impending implosion of the World Towers in New York City, it is Colum McCann's novel, Let the Great World Spin. Set in the 1970's, at a time when the World Towers were under construction, the novel is as spell binding as the transcendent act of the tightrope walker who dances on a wire. Although not named in the book, the tightrope act is based on the real life feat of Philippe Petit who, with a ragtag band of misfits, suspended a cable between the two World Towers and had the courage to create a moment in time when all of New York stood still. As the reader gets to know the intertwined lives of the characters in the novel and their defining moments, the reader is acutely aware of ephemeral nature of the people and the buildings. It is as if they are all ghosts because the permanent fixtures of the story, the World Trade Centers, are an illusion. What I most loved were the brothers, Ciaran and Corrigan. Ciaran often reminded me of a sidewalk spectator helplessly watching with a volatile mixture of both admiration and trepidation as the conflicted Corrigan dances precariously on a wire. And just as the reader is transported briefly to a time in New York when the world was unaware of the impending disaster of 9/11, the characters in the novel struggle with their various demons unaware of the fatal accident that will intersect through and impact all their lives.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    I love this book.

    I love the interconnectedness of the characters. The epigraph says it all--we lead lives parallel to other lives that we will never know about. Here we see the parallel lives and how they touch each other, how they are connected by a thread, or in this case a cable pulled between the twin towers. The writing is superb. The book is full of gems; lines that made me pause and think about them before continuing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Award Well Deserved!

    It is easy to see why McCann won the National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin. The story is alive with wonderful characters and they all have an unexpected connection to each other and the tightrope walk of Philippe Petit between the newly constructed World Trade Towers. This fictional piece has special meaning to its author, who personally felt the loss of friends in the demise of the towers on 9/11. As each new set of characters is presented you begin to understand how the great world spins out of control to its climactic conclusion. Don't miss this read! It is a unique ride.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2010

    Let the Great World (like grated cheeze) Spin.(It stinks)

    It is a pity that a person with such acute literary talents should write a formula novel that drags the reader through the dregs of Police blotter records in the form of a story and exposes a particular target audience to an abysmal part of society found in all cities and represents the bottom of humanaties existence. Apparantly this has made a lot of money and the critics seem to have overlooked content for style. Should be banned from high school libraries as it is clearly literary porn.

    2 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Flesh and blood characters whose lives intersect in unexpected ways

    I loved this book, its pace, the interaction of the characters, and most of all - the 'aliveness' of the characters themselves. Author Colum McCann has a way of getting inside the characters' heads as they try to make sense of themselves, their personal losses, and the insecurities that color and shape their lives.
    You do not want this book to end and you're sad that it must.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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