Philippe Petit is known for his astounding feat of daring when, on August 7, 1974, he stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City. But beyond his balance, courage, and showmanship, there was one thing Petit had to be absolutely certain of—his knots. Without the confidence that his knots would hold, he never would have left the ground. In fact, while most of us don’t think about them beyond tying our shoelaces, the humble knot is crucial in countless contexts, from sailing to sports to industrial safety to art, agriculture, and more.
In this truly unique book, Petit offers a guide to tying over sixty of his essential knots, with practical sketches illustrating his methods and clear tying instructions. Filled with photos in which special knots were used during spectacular high-wire walks, quirky knot trivia, personal anecdotes, helpful tips, magic tricks, and special tying challenges, Why Knot? will entertain and educate readers of all ages.
“In reading Philippe’s book we are cogently reminded that without the ability to secure a rope, or tether a goat, or make fast the sheets of a galley, much of the civilization that we take for granted would disappear as easily as a slipknot in the hands of a Vegas conjuror.” —Sting, musician and activist
“His descriptions are clear, he deploys humor frequently and he makes his points with anecdotes that are colorful and memorable. Explaining the purpose and creation of knots and thanks to those flawless drawings Mr. Petit earns perfect marks.” —The Wall Street Journal
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Imagine a world without ropes, lines, cables, and knots.
There would be no yarns to set as warp and weft for a loom, no fabric, no clothes to wear.
No shoelaces, no bow ties.
No toothbrushes with nylon bristles, no waxed floss.
You could not tow your automobile to the next service station. No matter, because there would be no cars: Lift the hood and see how many cords and wires are part of the engine, and check the tires — the rubber reinforced by minuscule steel strands is melted over crisscrossing artificial fiber twine.
Sorry, no ski lifts.
Parades and parties, yes — but deprived of banners, of flags, of dangling lanterns.
No flying your kite today. Without racquets and a net, it's hard to play badminton. And no more bilboquet contests — Excuse me? You're not familiar with bilboquet? Go Google it!
No electricity cables.
No telephone lines.
No bulletproof vests — made of Kevlar threads — and no fiber optics for SWAT teams.
No drying laundry dancing in the breeze above the meadow for Andrew Wyeth to paint — and by the way, no more nylon paintbrushes.
No woven wicker baskets to carry your picnics, and no gift wrapping; and sadder still, no guitar playing, no violin concertos, no high-wire walkers!
I am a man of ropes, a child of the trees. At age six I learned to tie my first Square Knot and spent my childhood weaving hemp ropes between branches to assemble tree houses and monkey bridges (you know, one rope below for the feet, one rope above for the hands). It was natural for me to let go of the hand rope one day and become a self-taught high-wire artist ... just as it was, later, to give my daughter a name that did not exist: Cordia.
Now a Master Rigger with fifty years of hands-on experience, I give lectures and workshops on knots, in which I advise people to master only ten or twelve knots — enough for a variety of needs in a lifetime.
I know two hundred knots (from the estimated four thousand in existence!). My voraciousness for learning to tie can be explained. From my first tightrope "demonstration" in Russia in 1966 to my illegal high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 — as well as the longest and highest inclined crossing to the Eiffel Tower in 1989 — knots have been the essential components of each rigging, the guardian angels protecting my life in the sky.
A passion for engineering, a longing for exploration, and a quest for perfection kept feeding my search for more knots. The more knots I learned, the more selective I became in deciding which was the perfect candidate for a specific rigging application. With time, because my installations became safer, my mind grew free from terrestrial concerns, which lent my aerial promenades more elegance and thus made them more inspiring.
Most of the knots included in this book have been put to task during one wire walk or another, and each passed the ultimate test: to contribute in securing a man's life.
Today, the library I own on the subject of ropes, rigging, and knots — nearly two hundred volumes from all over the world — makes me proud but terribly frustrated. Most books on knots are poorly conceived and executed and are replete with errors, as if authored without sufficient passion, talent, precision, and experience. And besides the wondrous and much needed "bible," The
Ashley Book of Knots (which is to be kept as reference material for its 7,000 drawings and more than 3,900 knots), most publications are overwhelming due to the number of knots they impose on the reader.
This prompted me to create "the perfect little book of knots," an original and very personal compilation (I regularly mention the knots that I use for rigging specific high-wire walks). My book does not suffer from all the shortcomings introduced by guilty predecessors! My book — not too heavy, not too large — offers (after months of research) a well-thought-out, justified, and judiciously complete selection of essential and sometimes little-known knots, which include the safest, the easiest and fastest to tie and untie, the most ingenious, and the most simple. The book groups the knots into logical families, according to usages and features; it begins with simple ties, then grows in complexity; it introduces variations only after the original knot has been defined, and it practically disregards the common classic knot — and this is a revolutionary first in knot books — barely making mention of it, then immediately describing the elaborate version that is more secure or more practical than the original! When applicable, this book lists all known alternative appellations (the Cow Hitch has fourteen different names!).
My book provides the reader with clear, clever, and consistent tying instructions that are, for the most part, my personal methods. The explanations are flawless (you will never read "above" when "under" is correct). The illustrations, not too small, nor lacking contrast, are faultless (you will never see a Closed Loop when the knot calls for an Open Loop), and my drawings reveal, when appropriate, the parts of the rope (such as working end and standing part) that are an essential bit of information to understand certain knots.
By giving examples of practical applications, by sharing historical information, technical data, and anecdotes, I ensured that the book conveys my excitement for tying. If you're not already nuts for knots, you will be transformed very soon into a knot aficionado.
It has been my pastime for some years now to correct and edit my collection of knot books. I modify faulty drawings, add and delete words, and cover the margins with comments. So, if I insist upon listing all of the qualities of Why Knot?, it is because most books on knots are sorely lacking them. (Would you believe, even the venerable Ashley volume, in its Parisian publication, shows a knot that is not a knot on the cover? — ah, but that's the French!)
Because lines are frequently too short, new lines must be added (I'm thinking of the Double Sheet Bend).
Because items must be secured in travel (with the reliable Clove Hitch, for instance).
Because loads must be lifted into place during construction (try the Cat's Paw).
Because human lives must be rescued (the Bowline in the Bight never fails).
And because ... The list is endless.
But mostly because the world needs connections.
I am aware of the profound aspect of my profession — it consists of linking things with a tightrope. I join separate pieces of land, I marry twin towers, I introduce cathedrals' steeples to each other (the word "religion" has its origin in the Latin religare — "to tie with a cord"). When I install my high wire, I rig a bridge — a bridge for one day — to walk above the abyss. Once the bridge is built, it connects two points; yet, more importantly, it connects people.
Now imagine a world without bridges
Excerpted from "Why Knot?"
Copyright © 2018 Philippe Petit.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Jump Right In!, 1,
About This Book, 18,
About Ropes, 23,
About Knots, 30,
ABOK and KM, 35,
TERMINATION KNOTS, 61,
BINDING KNOTS, 71,
Surprise: Virtuosity!, 82,
Surprise: Extraordinary!, 100,
Surprise: Ornamental, 118,
SECURING AND FREEING, 121,
Surprise: Magic!, 136,
SEIZING AND LASHING, 147,
Surprise Challenge!, 155,
RUNNING KNOTS, 161,
Surprise: Magic!, 180,
TWINES, THREADS, FISHING LINES, 189,
SIMPLICTY AND ELEGANCE, 197,
Surprise: Challenge!, 204,
About the Author, 244,