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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)
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.
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.
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)
Read an Excerpt
To Reach The Clouds
BEFORERebel 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 insecret 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.© Philippe Petit, 2002