To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers

To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers

5.0 4
by Petit
An artist of the air re-creates his six-year plot to pull off an act of incomparable beauty and imagination

One late-summer day, a feat of unimaginable audacity was perpetrated on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The year was 1974. A hundred thousand people gathered on the ground to watch in awe as twenty-four-year-old high wire artist Philippe


An artist of the air re-creates his six-year plot to pull off an act of incomparable beauty and imagination

One late-summer day, a feat of unimaginable audacity was perpetrated on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The year was 1974. A hundred thousand people gathered on the ground to watch in awe as twenty-four-year-old high wire artist Philippe Petit made eight crossings between the all-but-completed towers, a quarter mile above the earth, over the course of nearly an hour.

Petit's achievement made headlines around the world. Yet few who saw or heard about it realized that it was the fulfillment of a dream he had nurtured for six years, rekindling it each time it was in danger of expiring. His accomplices were a motley crew of foreigners and Americans, who under Petit's direction had conpired, connived, labored, argued, rehearsed, and improvised to make possible an act of unsurpassed aerial artistry.

In this visually and verbally stunning book, Petit tells for the first time the dramatic story of this history-making walk, from conception and clandestine planning to the performance and its aftermath. The account draws on Petit's journals, which capture everything from his budgets to his strategies for rigging a high wire in the dead of night between two of the most secure towers in the world. It is animated by photographs taken by two of Petit's collaborators, and by his own wonderfully evocative sketches and unquenchable humor.

Editorial Reviews
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In Paris, in 1968, 18-year-old street performer Philippe Petit saw an illustration of the proposed World Trade Center towers, slated for construction in downtown Manhattan. Awestruck, he took a pencil and drew a line between the two rooftops. He had already dreamed of becoming a high-wire walker; but now he had identified his ultimate goal.

Over the next six years, Petit brought undying energy to perfecting his new craft. His first public performance took place atop Paris's Notre Dame in June 1971. Two years later, he walked between the northern pylons of the world's largest steel arch bridge in Sydney harbor. But Petit had not forgotten his dream of the towers and began to assemble a ragtag group of co-conspirators who would plan, train, and rehearse the complicated plan to rig an unauthorized high wire between the nearly finished towers in the dead of night.

One late-summer day in 1974, Petit's dream came true. As thousands gathered on the ground to watch in amazement, he made eight crossings between the towers, 110 stories above the earth, in less than an hour. In his ebullient memoir, he perfectly captures the exhilaration, triumph, and pure joy of this stunning achievement, from inception to aftermath. And he also offers his final word on his beloved towers in the aftermath of their destruction: "Architects, please make them more magnificent -- try a twist, a quarter turn…. Make them higher…so they reach 111 stories high…. When the towers again twin-tickle the clouds, I offer to walk again…in an aerial song of victory." (Fall 2002 Selection)

Publishers Weekly
On the morning of August 7, 1974 having already illegally rigged and walked steel cables between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris and Australia's Sydney Harbor Bridge French funambulist Petit illegally rigged 200 feet of 7/8" steel cable between the two World Trade Center towers and walked between them repeatedly, lying down at one point and making eight crossings in all. This incredible feat resulted from six years of obsessive planning and problem-solving, meticulously documented in this engrossing, truly exhilarating account of how he pulled it off. Petit has penned four previous books in French regaling his various exploits, and here establishes an elegantly energetic and quirkily poetic English as he tells of secretly (and benignly) casing the World Trade Center, assembling his team of helpers for the enormously complicated (and improvised) rigging job, getting the heavy cable and rigging tools to the roof, running the wire across in the dead of night (via an arrow shot between the towers!), and tightening the cable: "Even in the midst of the hardest rigging job or most demanding clandestine adventure, I never fail to pause and admire the moment when tension brings my cable to what I consider its most seductive shape. Then I pause and smile back." The way in which the walk itself stopped traffic and galvanized the city is captured in Petit's descriptions and the 140 b&w photos (including Petit's notebook sketches), a most fitting remembrance of the World Trade Center as a piece of New York social architecture. The spirit behind Petit's form of trespass undertaken with enormous care, to the point of wrapping the rigging in carpet so it would not damage the towers acts directly against the violation of the city's structures and the murder of its people. (Sept.) Forecast: While a plethora of World Trade Center books are due this fall (see future roundups), it is doubtful that any will come close to the intimacy and immediacy of this one. Look for big sales and media attention. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On August 7, 1974, French funambulist Petit, then 24, performed an astonishing high-wire act on a cable that he and his accomplices had surreptitiously rigged between the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. In short, predominantly one-page chapters, Petit details the entire adventure, from its inception in a Parisian dentist's office in 1968 through his hour-long aerial feat of eight trips across the cable, 1350 feet above the ground, while more than 100,000 New Yorkers watched. Wonderfully documented are the assemblage of his confederates, the innumerable covert trips to the towers, the exhaustive planning, and, especially, the seemingly endless frustrations, problems, fights, and difficulties throughout the six-year period that led up to the "artistic crime of the century." Part Houdini, part Evil Kneivel, Petit is certainly fascinating; if his prose sags a little under the weight of too many exclamatory and interrogative sentences and hyperbolic tropes, he is to be forgiven; after all, he spent an hour suspended between heaven and earth. The 140 drawings and photographs are by Petit and his comrades and tend to be a bit amateurish, but they do give readers an idea of just how audacious a feat it was. Essential. Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A heady, rushing account of the outrageous high-wire act performed by Petit, on August 7, 1974, between the World Trade Center towers. Even Petit understood it to be a "mad project," which was why, when he took to the cable he and his confederates had strung between the Twin Towers, he held much of the city in thrall for an hour as he coursed back and forth 110 stories high. In short chapters, written as though the words were on fire, Petit recounts all the planning-he had already done major illegal aerial walks between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral and on the world's longest steel arch bridge, in Australia-and all the incredible logistical problems: the danger of the towers swaying in the wind and snapping the cable, the subterfuges necessary to gain access to the still uncompleted buildings for planning strategy. There are snafus and betrayals, wonderful strokes of luck, and some inside help. Most of all, there is Petit: arrogant, haughty, rebellious, and romantic, the grandiose funambulist ("Impossible, yes, so let's get to work"), right up until the moment of "tuning my wire for the celestial symphony to follow." For all his bluster and hyperbole-"The gods of the towers. Breathing, swaying. . . . Let me go. Let me pass. Let me arrive. Let me reach you"-it is impossible not to like Petit, epitome of the adventurer who makes his days count, cheating the Reaper, thumbing his nose at authority, inspiring and giving delight. Like George Mallory, he is asked, Why? "When I see three oranges I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk!" Johnny Carson calls, and Petit turns him down; Sweet 'n' Low wants his endorsement, and he stares in disbelief. He keeps the act sacrosanct, a wild deed anda work of art, and he scredits those who helped make it happen. As breath-stopping as the event itself. (140 drawings and photographs)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
8.82(w) x 11.22(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt


Rebel poet?

By four years old, disdain for my fellow man starts to show: I climb onto everything to distance myself. At age six, I announce, "When I grow up, I want to be a theatrical director!" Then I proceed to learn magic on my own.

During the next ten years, I study drawing, painting, sculpting, fencing, printing, carpentry, theater, and horseback riding, all with prestigious masters; I embrace focus, tenacity, respect for the tool, and passion.

The reaction of my parents to my unruly individuality is to legally emancipate me on my seventeenth birthday. Autodidact, I become a juggler and a tightrope walker.

By the time I turn eighteen, I've been expelled from five schools for practicing the art of the pickpocket on my teachers and the art of card manipulation under my desk. I refuse to take the basic exam to prove I can read, write, and count, and thereby jeopardize my chances of landing a job picking up garbage or operating a cash register. Instead, I leave home and become a wandering troubadour, a street-juggler without a permit who is arrested constantly.. .all over the world.

No one wishes to hire me, practitioner of an absurd arrogance; for a while I make sure it stays that way. It becomes essential to write, play chess, learn Russian and bullfighting, discover architecture and engineering, invent hiding places, erect tree houses, train at lock-picking -- to indulge my gourmandise for knowledge while honing my perfectionism.

This course of events conduces me to imagine rigging a wire in secret somewhere and performing on such an imposed stage, out of reach, in total disregard of the powers that be.

The adventure of the World Trade Center begins with the first appearance of such thoughts, in a dentist's waiting room in Paris. I am barely eighteen years old.


I am barely eighteen years old, free, rebellious, and untrusting. It's winter in Paris, 1968.

Pain from multiple cavities forces me to enter a dentist's waiting room. The air is stale, the ceiling low, the wallpaper hideous. A couple of naked forty-watt bulbs reveal half a dozen senior citizens, who greet my entrance with loathing and suspicion.

I grab a stack of outdated newspapers and flip the pages as noisily as possible. Suddenly, there is silence: I am staring at an illustration and reading over and over a short article about a fantastic building whose twin towers, 110 stories tall, will rise over New York City in a few years and "tickle the clouds."

Over the photograph of the architect's model, in a display of classic French chauvinism, an outline of the Eiffel Tower has been superimposed at the same scale, for comparison. On the side, the pitiful Tour Maine Montparnasse, unknown to the world yet Parisians' latest pride, stands less than half the size of the American project. With typical French egocentricity, a large heading proclaims, 100 METERS MORE THAN THE EIFFEL TOWER, while a subheading informs us erroneously, IT'S THE "TRADE WORLD CENTER" OF NEW YORK.

Although I have been practicing only a few months, I have already announced my intention to become high wire artist supreme, and wire walking has already become my obsessive, nearly fanatical new passion. So it is as a reflex that I take the pencil from behind my ear to trace a line between the two rooftops -- a wire, but no wirewalker.

I want this article. I need this article.

It is almost a crime in my country to deprive a professional antechamber of useless reading material, and almost certainly another to tear out a page.

I begin to stare with growing intensity at the cheap reproduction of Les Nymphéas hanging askew above the grandfather clock, as if a huge insect were strolling across the canvas. Soon, necks twisted, everyone joins me in staring at the painting. I let go of a giant "Aa-choo!" that gives me cover as I tear the page and shove it under my jacket, then hurriedly disappear.

The heist takes less than a second. It takes me a week to find another dentist, but the pain I suffer is nothing compared to the dream freshly acquired.

If this were a scene from my film, I would have the camera follow the clipping back to the young thief's studio, show the document being pulled out from under his jacket -- tight frame -- and being filed inside a large red box dragged from under his bed. A close-up would reveal the box's label in boldface Garamond: PROJECTS.

These files are not business ventures, but projects that ripen in the clouds. The secret desires of children who spend afternoons in treetops. Dreams.

And yet I will forget the clipping, for much of the next four years...


During the next few years, unbeknownst to me and thousands of miles away, something amazing, something unheard of, something colossal is happening.

First an architect had a vision. A preliminary model, eight feet high, was constructed; another dozen, at different scales, would follow. Little sketches gave way to drawings of great detail and dimension, thousands of them. In downtown Manhattan, thirteen city blocks would have to be cleared. Ground was broken.

Now imagine!

Hundreds of men, trusting only those childish cardboard-and-glue assemblies, guided only by those pitiful sheets of flammable paper marked with thin blue lines, hundreds of men are leading thousands of men, men with tools, men with machines, into stacking steel, concrete, aluminum, and glass in perfect balance and in total disregard of the commandment, "Thou shall not try to reach the clouds."

The ants are building a skyscraper -- skyscraper with two arms, pointing at the gods.

The rest is noise, lots of noise. The cranes are slewing, luffing, and lifting 192,000 tons of steel. Each I-beam, each load-bearing column tree, each truss is numbered by hand before being slung and sent into the sky. And someone always knows precisely how and when to connect the pieces.

This goes on for three years.

And the twin towers rise.

Copyright © 2002 Philippe Petit

Meet the Author

Philippe Petit is a world-renowned high wire artist who has performed all over the world. He lives in the Catskills and New York City, where he is artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

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To Reach the Clouds 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is ultimately a self-help book, showing us all that even though our dreams may seem impossible, with persistence and dedication, we can prevail. This gracefully written nail-biter recalls an event that was sublime and all the more impressive because it was uncalled for, unreasonable, unauthorized, and unsponsored! And to his everlasting credit (in my book), he didn't use his new found celebrity to 'cash in.' He has remained a pure artist. Petit was (is) daring, ingenious, and courageous to a insane degree, besides being an totally winning, endearing spirit. What I didn't realize at the time was what a logistical and engineering feat it was. Getting hundreds of pounds of steel cable and rigging equipment to the roof (all done clandestinely), and spending all night rigging it with his 3 confederates was an accomplishment in itself. A beautifully poetic touch is that his first step in conquering the epitome of world power was accomplished with a pre-civilization technology - a bow and arrow (to shoot a fishing line across the gap from which heavier lines were linked, and eventually the cable). Then, exhausted from a sleepless night of physical labor, he had the guts to make his dream come true. I totally recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellant book about a historical event. Most people can't imagine how this highwire walk happened...? It was all done on the sly and the story demands to be told..I am glad Petit decided to share the story with the public..It is honest and detailed and exciting...How he got a ton of cable to the top of the WTC without anyone knowing. The photos are great and the illustrations help tell the story...In this time of great unrest and public concern about the future it is refreshing to read about someone who had a dream to "do a show for the world" and made it happen. It made the papers all over the world and remains an event that will always be part of America's imagination and psyche. READ IT AND ENJOY....
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am really lost for works to describe this wonderful record of one of the centuries most incredible events. The "funambule" (tight rope walker in French) Philippe Petit tells the story so vividly and truthfully and it inspires all those that read it to understand what his accomplishment really is. The whole story is about someone with a dream that makes it happen.. Using his ability to recruit good people who believe in him and his professional ability to rig high wires in great places other than the circus..he proceeds to astonish the world with a feat so magnificient and mind boggling that is covers the front pages of all the worlds papers... Read it and be part of an experience that is now history for more than one reason..The World Trade Center is lost and the "walk" is left for you to imagine with the help of this wonderfully illustrated book that has great photographs and drawings. Be lost for an afternoon or evening with this great story..