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Let the Great World Spin

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  101,603 ratings  ·  9,552 reviews
In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Col ...more
Hardcover, 351 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Random House (first published June 16th 2009)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  101,603 ratings  ·  9,552 reviews

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Jan 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In my classification system, there are books that are readers’ books (they tell an engaging story); there are books that are writers’ books (they are creative in their prose and technically sound); and then there are GREAT books that tell a good story through solid prose. Let the Great World Spin (the 2009 National Book Award winner) is such a book.

The book shares the lives of seemingly random New Yorkers in 1974, and how their lives intertwine. At the surface, they seem connected by what happe
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This really may be the first truly profound novel to connect itself with September 11, 2001 and New York City, if only because it does so in such an understated, oblique, and poetically suggestive way. It's also a novel that may take over a hundred pages to truly capture your imagination, but once it does, and once the connective tissue of the disparate group of characters starts to reveal itself, the novel attains a kind of hypnotic and edgy grace for its duration. So richly and deeply are McCa ...more
Mar 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
I used to really enjoy short story collections. I used to read scary ones in elementary school, depressing ones in high school, and I even read trippy ones in college (thinking I was cool). But sometime during my post-college years, my interest in them began to wane. I don’t know whether this can be ascribed to getting older, but I do know that I now get frustrated with short stories. The time I invest in the setting and the characters, acclimating to the storytelling style and pacing—well, ther ...more
Paul Bryant
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels, abandoned
This won the national book award
Which didn’t stop me from becoming bored
Instead of this you could try a
Documentary called Man on a Wire
It’s also about Philippe Petit’s act
(Against which the cards were surely stacked)
To walk in the air between the two towers
For approximately 0.75 hours
On 7th August 1974.

By doing so he broke the law
But the DA for once did the right thing
And he wasn’t sent to Rikers or Sing Sing
Where PP’s feat was one of funambulism
Colum McCann’s is more like somnambulism
Jan 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For a book that's solely supposed to be about characters....I thought all of these characters were amazingly one-dimensional. The self-sacrificing wanna-be priest? The smarter-than-she-looks hooker? The rich lonely Park Ave housewife? Nothing unique or original in there.
Reading it didn't suck really hard, because it's an easy enough read, and there are little splotches of nice writing and insight throughout....but all in all, I didn't get it.
I also didn't get the whole "NYC in the '70s" thing f
Richard Derus
Oct 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Reviews, in my opinion, aren't the right place for book reports, nor for nosegays of fanboy gush. I'm supposed to let the reader know why he or she should, could, or would want to read a title.

You should, could, AND would want to read this National Book Award-winning novel of grief, sadness, and loss because it's so damned easy to love and cherish these characters. The Catholic monk whose vocation is to bring a whisper of compassion, in its ancient and literal meaning of "shared pain", to the le
Oh god, don’t make me look up! I was only looking at words in a book, but the image gives me instant vertigo! And I’m NOT kidding! There’s a crazy guy doing gymnastics on a tightrope between the Twin Towers, a million feet up in the air. All the other people can look up (and are obsessed with looking up, in fact, which is totally beyond my comprehension since I have to stare intently at my feet), so what’s with me? I’m afraid of heights, so I just can’t look. I just can’t. But how can just readi ...more
May 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
A tightrope walker about to pull off one of the biggest stunts ever performed. A committed priest too busy looking out for the downtrodden to take care of himself. A pair of prostitutes who are also mother and daughter. A rich woman crippled by grief and her stoic judge husband. A couple of artists who fled the New York night life. Computer hackers. A brutal car wreck. Slums. Penthouses. Robbery. Charity.

It’s either another day in New York, or it’s the shittiest circus ever.

In 1974, a French ac
Have you ever heard Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'? That first low note of the clarinet that increasingly vibrates on the ground before it jumps high, high to land with a soft boom of drums and a smooth backdrop of horns, a building for the clarinet to continue on with trills and soars, till finally the zenith is reached and the horn sounds its own quavering, the robust tone completing that architecture first sounded by the leaping thrills of the lone clarinet.

I am hardly the first to see this pi
One of my favorite photographs I have of my mom is on a family trip to New York in 1994. We are on a boat going to Ellis Island and she is smiling, giddy, the Manhattan skyline in the background. A native New Yorker, this was our first trip back to New York in over ten years. The twin towers are prominent in the background, and little did she, or any of us, know that less than ten years later they would be gone, destroyed, obliterated in a puff of smoke. These images had not entered the fabric o ...more
Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile
This sucked me in at the beginning, with a colorful cast of fascinating characters from far different walks of life. About halfway, the vast list of characters telling their own chapters got a bit much, and I found myself not connecting or caring as much for each one, mostly since there had been SO MANY. The end tied up where everyone ended up in life, which I appreciated. I simply felt that the middle got a bit rambling and overambitious.
Jan 04, 2010 rated it liked it
"Being on the tightrope is living; everything else is waiting."
-- Karl Wallenda, of the Flying Wallendas.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are almost ten years old, and yet, the wound is still very raw (for those not directly involved, I mean; for those that were there, the wound is forever). Books and films that have dared touch the subject have done so in one of two ways: with near-stultifying decorum and gravity, which makes art into some kind of vague, patriotic duty; or with obli
Christopher Ryan
Feb 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
I despise this book on so many levels. Primarily because it touches upon all the necessary/obvious hot points of recent American history: racism, Vietnam, 9/11, even hammering the latter home by ludicrously having a security guard tell someone they can't use their phone in a fricking airport terminal while waiting for luggage. Also: poverty, religion, class warfare, etc. It's as if some foreign writer came in to write about America and wanted to come away with all its dark secrets by scanning ne ...more
Deborah Edwards
Feb 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: personal-faves
Life is full of unexpected synchronicities. The kinds of things that occasionally make you feel that you are connected to a greater web of being, a little sign to let you know that you are not in this alone. Two days before I picked up Colum McCann's extraordinary novel "Let The Great World Spin," I watched the equally extraordinary documentary "Man on Wire" for the second time. Philippe Petit, more angel than human, strung a cable across the Twin Towers in 1974 and performed on it for over half ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-said

I had a difficult time getting into this book but in the end I am glad I persevered. It is really a story about New York City in 1974 centered around Phillippe Petit's historic tight rope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. But the story itself trancends all that and takes us into the lives of some of the people whose days are coloured by this incredible feat and what unfolds is a powerful,complex tale of life, love, loss and redemption. I don't think I realized just how profo
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How did he do it?
How did he get the wire across?

That's the question that intrigues those who saw or heard of Philippe Petit's daring tightrope walk on August 7, 1974. Not who, not why. How.

How he bridged the unbridgeable, the chasm between those two monolithic structures. Spider-like, sending a thread that looks as delicate as silk from afar, but is strong enough to carry a man, a thread that connects the two separate giants.

This took a wee while to work its magic. It is oblique, (which I li
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016, modern-lit
An ambitious and complex novel set in New York in 1974. Each chapter tells the story of a different character, and it gradually becomes clear that they are much more linked than seems the case early on. McCann's characters are rounded and sympathetic, covering a wide cross section of New York society.

The central inspiration is Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Centre, and his story has a symbolic resonance that links the remaining tales of survival.

If I have
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Let the great world spin. And the great world of New York did indeed spin in this book.

How do you view melancholy and heartbreak as something pure and beautiful and riveting and just plain astounding? You read Colum McCann's work, that's how.

It was an orchestra of sorts--the many different voices and narratives. McCann writes with so much lyricism, he makes you want to dance with the tightrope walker the book opens with (taken from the true 1974 story of Philippe Petit, by the way). Three word
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
I wanted to remember some of the lines from this book so I wrote them in my journal. I haven't read anything in a while that has made me ache. The loss in this book and the admiration the narrators have for the central figure is overwhelming as you read it. The author has obviously lost someone special and has captured that loss on paper. Just gorgeously written, especially the chapters titled Miro, Miro on the Wall and Centavos.


To describe this book would be misleading. It is
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
This one never quite got off the page for me. Couple of reasons why: 1) The structure of the book--loosely connected novellas and stories--keeps the reader from getting to know any of the characters, constantly introducing new ones just when you get interested in the last, and totally abandoning a few who clearly have a lot more to say. 2) The component parts of the whole felt workshoppy--craft-wise, they're all a little too on the nose, and rarely did McCann offer any surprises to ameliorate ho ...more
Peter Boyle
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's hard to describe this National Book Award winning novel without using the phrase 'balancing act.' Phillipe Petit's astonishing 1974 walk between the Twin Towers forms the centrepiece of the story, and in its shadow the lives of several characters intersect in surprising and intricate ways.

Corrigan is one of its sprawling cast. A Dublin import, he is a man of God who makes it his mission to serve a congregation of prostitutes working the city's grimy streets. Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn
I just finished Let the Great World Spin. WOW, I loved this book. You read it for the words, the thoughts that arise in you as you listen. You do not read this book for the plot. Maybe even parts are implausible, but that does not lessen the impact of the words. You cannot understand every line as you listen. Impossible. This is a book about life and how it whirls around you and how everything and everyone is interconnected.

How can I describe this book..... it is poetry that does not rhyme. If
Catherine Siemann
Apr 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009-favorites
New York City in 1974 was a run-down, uneasy place, trapped in a spiral of decay. Colum McCann's novel captures the spirit of the place and the people eloquently and movingly, the despair and isolation, the community and the hope. The stories of a disparate group of New Yorkers are linked together by Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers: a monk working among prostitutes in the Bronx; his brother, newly arrived from Dublin; one of the prositutes; a Park Avenue matron (Claire, p ...more
Feb 22, 2010 rated it really liked it

Despite depressing themes; in gratitude of lambent prose that sparkles and twinkles across the page, Colum McCann’s, ‘Let the Great World Spin’ is a joy to read.

(Pg. 149 -- B&N Digital Edition)

After reading the prologue I thought, “Wow. I’m going to like this novel.” By page fifty-five or so, though, I was ready to give it two stars and lament how I should have known better than to read a book by anyone with ‘Mc’ in their name. Native-b
May 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
When you google “Let the Great World Spin” together with “weave”, you get something like 130,000 hits. I guess that makes sense. It’s the natural, albeit overused, word for what McCann did so well: tell multiple stories about multiple people with multiple themes, focusing on one point-of-view at a time, but with enough overlap to bind them together. (I tried to come up with a more distinctive metaphor, but my spinning disc with multi-colored curves coming from the center like one of those psyche ...more
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann was told in a non-linear fashion by several different narrators and each with some type of tangential relationship to the other characters in the book; some will become aware of that interrelationship while others may not. Most of the story unfolds over the course of several days and some events are told from many different perspectives. The narrative is primarily in New York City interspersed with a fictional narrative of the history-making feat of funam ...more
David Lentz
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ah, Dear God, this man knows how to write and send the human soul soaring after the resurrection from the dark night of the spirit. Funny story: I met Colum at the Yale Writers' Conference at a lecture on writing at the Quinnipiac Club in New Haven. (Sorry, if that may sound pretentious: it's only just the setting for the back story.) Colum spoke with a gripping presentation and every word was a bullet about the fine art, the holy art, the desperate art of writing literary fiction. At one point ...more
Oct 18, 2020 rated it liked it
I've run across the theme of the interconnectedness of humanity in other novels lately where the book is a series of vignettes of different characters and how their lives touch however briefly, sometimes deeply, but always creating a larger mosaic of the pain, the hurt, the love and joy of the human experience...Colum McCann does it pretty well here with his award- winning, highly regarded, 'Let The Great World Spin'.
In August 1974, when Philip Petit is performing his unsanctioned high wire walk
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love this book after hearing so much praise for it, but at best, I liked it. I was into it right away and then I didn't even want to pick it up for a solid week...overall I liked it but there were a couple stories I really struggled through, and those same ones were the characters I struggled to like or connect with at all, in particular, Tillie. While the book was fiction, I had no idea that the tightrope walker incident was a true event.

I was pleased with the book for the mo
Dec 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Further update:
Apparently there is an ongoing audience for this review, based on recent comments, and I might have hurt their reading pleasure "cuz" I didn't indicate there were SPOILERS!! Heck, I was just trying to save folks some precious reading time; doubt reading this will affect your like or dislike of the book. But watch for the WARNINGS.

After some colleagues urged me to try it again, I plowed on, finished it, and am willing to move it up to 3 stars. Well written, but still too dis
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Colum McCann is the author of three collections of short stories and six novels, including "Apeirogon," due to be published in Spring 2020. His other books include "TransAtlantic," "Let the Great World Spin," "This Side of Brightness,""Dancer" and “Zoli,” all of which were international best-sellers.

“Let the Great World Spin” won the Natio

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