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Let the Great World Spin: A Novel Hardcover – June 23, 2009


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More from Colum McCann
Read a Q&A with author Colum McCann, and download the reading group guide to Let the Great World Spin [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063736
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063734
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (640 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #134,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Colum McCann has worked some exquisite magic with Let the Great World Spin, conjuring a novel of electromagnetic force that defies gravity. It's August of 1974, a summer "hot and serious and full of death and betrayal," and Watergate and the Vietnam War make the world feel precarious. A stunned hush pauses the cacophonous universe of New York City as a man on a cable walks (repeatedly) between World Trade Center towers. This extraordinary, real-life feat by French funambulist Philippe Petit becomes the touchstone for stories that briefly submerge you in ten varied and intense lives--a street priest, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers mourning sons lost in war, young artists, a Park Avenue judge. All their lives are ordinary and unforgettable, overlapping at the edges, occasionally converging. And when they coalesce in the final pages, the moment hums with such grace that its memory might tighten your throat weeks later. You might find yourself paused, considering the universe of lives one city contains in any slice of time, each of us a singular world, sometimes passing close enough to touch or collide, to birth a new generation or kill it, sending out ripples, leaving residue, an imprint, marking each other, our city, the very air--compassionately or callously, unable to see all the damage we do or heal. And most of us stumbling, just trying not to trip, or step in something awful.

But then someone does something extraordinary, like dancing on a cable strung 110 stories in the air, or imagining a magnificent novel that lifts us up for a sky-scraping, dizzy glimpse of something greater: the sordid grandeur of this whirling world, "bigger than its buildings, bigger than its inhabitants." --Mari Malcolm

Amazon Exclusive: Frank McCourt on Let the Great World Spin

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, Angela's Ashes, won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. Times Book Award. In 2006, he won the prestigious Ellis Island Family Heritage Award for Exemplary Service in the Field of the Arts and the United Federation of Teachers John Dewey Award for Excellence in Education. McCourt also wrote Tis and Teacher Man, both memoirs. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of Let the Great World Spin:

Now I worry about Colum McCann. What is he going to do after this blockbuster groundbreaking heartbreaking symphony of a novel? No novelist writing of New York has climbed higher, dived deeper.

Trust me, this is the sort of book that you will take off your shelf over and over again as the years go along. It’s a story of the early 1970s, but it’s also the story of our present times. And it is, in many ways, a story of a moment of lasting redemption even in the face of all the evidence.

There are dozens of intimate tales and threads at the core of Let the Great World Spin. On one level there’s the tightrope walker making his way across the World Trade Center towers. But as the novel goes along the “walker” becomes less and less of a focal point and we begin to care more about the people down below, on the pavement, in the ordinary throes of their existence. There’s an Irish monk living in the Bronx projects. There’s a Park Avenue mother in mourning for her dead son, who was blown up in the cafés of Saigon. There are the original computer hackers who "visit" New York in an early echo of the Internet. There’s an artist who has learn to return to the simplicity of love. And then--in possibly the book’s wildest and most ambitious section--there’s a Bronx hooker who has brought up her children in “the house that horse built”--“horse” of course being the heroin that was ubiquitous in the '70s.

All the voices feel realized and authentic and the writing floats along. This was my city back then--and now. McCann has written about New York before, but never quite as piercingly or as provocatively as this. This is fiction that gets the heart thumping.

The stories are interweaved so that it is one story, on one day, in one city, and yet it is also a history of the present time. In Let the Great World Spin, you can’t ignore the overtones for today: suffice it to say that the novel is held together by an act of redemption and beauty. I didn’t want to stop turning the pages.

I’m really not sure what McCann will do after this, but this is a great New York book, not just for New Yorkers but for anyone who walks any sort of tightrope at all. And yes, it doesn’t surprise me that it takes an Irishman to capture the heart of the city... --Frank McCourt

(Photo © Kit DeFever)

From Publishers Weekly

McCann's sweeping new novel hinges on Philippe Petit's illicit 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers. It is the aftermath, in which Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is let go, but is killed on the way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, a priest who was giving her a ride. The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away, and the next day his wife, Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, leading her to meet John's brother, with whom she'll form an enduring bond. Meanwhile, Solomon's wife, Claire, meets with a group of mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. One of them, Gloria, lives in the same building where John lived, which is how Claire, taking Gloria home, witnesses a small salvation. McCann's dogged, DeLillo-like ambition to show American magic and dread sometimes comes unfocused—John Corrigan in particular never seems real—but he succeeds in giving us a high-wire performance of style and heart. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire's "Best and Brightest," and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

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Customer Reviews

The writing is brilliant and lyrical.
Linda L. Metzke
Some of the short stories were interesting, but, most were based too much on the characters introspection and thoughts with very little real story.
Jack H. Bryan
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann is a lovely, lovely read, lyrical and beautifully written.
Elizabeth Hendry

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

722 of 761 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a brilliant book; lyrical, poignant and powerful. It is that rarest of books, the kind that you know will reside inside you for a very long time and will have changed you in some profound way that words can not address. It is a book that, when you reach the last page, will leave you feeling stunned and not sure whether to take a deep breath to digest it all or turn to page one and begin all over again.

In a sense this book is an homage to the city of New York. It begins with a true historical event, when Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It is a marvelous sight. It was "one of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief". (p.247)

Several people look up to see this tight-rope walker and this shared act of perception is the glue for this book. In some way, each of their lives are inter-connected and will remain connected through time.

There is Corrigan, very religious in a social/political/and theological sense, who is struggling between his faith and the woman he loves. Corrigan's love is a Guatamalan nurse, hoping that he will choose her over his God. Ciaran, whose life is in flux, is Corrigan's brother. Tillie is a prostitute in trouble with the law and hoping that the legacy of prostitution will not be passed down to her granddaughters as it has been to her daughter. Claire lives on Park Avenue but also lives in a world of grief, forever mourning her son who died in Vietnam.
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134 of 148 people found the following review helpful By JoeV VINE VOICE on June 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
Let The Great World Spin was published last year to rave reviews. Descriptions included magical, sweeping, brilliant, poignant and the perfect New York novel. I am definitely out of step when it comes to current fiction because I missed the magic here - finding this book more style than substance.

The book is a set of vignettes chronicling a loosely connected set of Manhattanites in August of 1974. In the background are the Vietnam War, Nixon's resignation and Phillipe Petit- a man who stretched a cable between the World Trade Twin Towers - 103 stories up in the air - and went for a stroll - successfully.

Our cast includes two Irish brothers; one a catholic priest, who lives among and befriends a pack of heroin addicted prostitutes; a grieving mother who lost her son in the Vietnam War; and a young married couple trying to break into the NY art world in between cocaine binges. Not the most original or creative set of characters, but with a good story to guide them great novels are made. Unfortunately, and this is the biggest fault I had with Let The Great World Spin, the author doesn't tell us their stories - he explains them. Therefore the characters never became real to me - just their dialogue seemed surreal - and the narrative simply overwhelmed any and all of the underlying stories.

Think of watching a movie sitting next to someone who has seen it before and feels the need to keep whispering in your ear - detailing plot twists and characters' actions. At some point you simply want to yell, "Shut up!" I had the same experience/frustration reading this book, hoping - vainly - that the author would remove himself from the narrative. I know I'm in the minority here - but pass on this one.
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152 of 172 people found the following review helpful By B. A. Chaney VINE VOICE on July 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" follows the lives of a group of individuals immediately before and after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Although the book does not feature Petit as one of its central characters, the lives of all of the main characters intersect with Petit's walk in a key way, creating a neat puzzle around the event. The book looks at people from all walks of life in NYC in the 1970s--from Bronx hookers to a Park Avenue matron. As the lives of each of these people comes together you wonder who will survive this vicious city, where people and souls seem to be eaten alive.

This was the first work I had ever read by McCann, and wow, was I impressed. McCann is a master storyteller and the way he weaves words together creates such vivid pictures, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the burning Bronx. While this novel wasn't my typical style--it is much darker and rawer than what I typically read--McCann's literary gifts can only leave a reader in awe. I did have a few problems with the structure of the novel--the jumping from character to character sometimes felt jumpy and abrupt, but I think this technique was intended to jar the reader--mimicking the realities of life in 1970s New York. The ending also felt out of place to me.

While this is not exactly light summer reading, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of great english literature. This work has marked McCann as one of the greats of the modern world, and I can't wait to see what else he produces.
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77 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Mary O. Garm on July 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
On the morning of August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit strung a wire between the new, not entirely occupied, twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. He proceeded to step out onto the wire, a quarter of a mile above the pavement, and walk across, eight times, for a period of 45 minutes, while office workers, commuters, and police looked on in wonder, admiration, and consternation.

Colum McCann tells the story of this aerial crime, enriching it with the stories of ten people who saw or were affected by the aerialist's action that day, including an Irish-born "street priest" in the South Bronx and his brother; Petit's sentencing judge, his wife, and son; mother/daughter hookers; and computer programmers on the West Coast. The reader is treated to a series of narratives that could stand alone as short stories, but that are, in the end, interconnected on the day of Philippe Petit's performance.

The novel introduces a stunning variety of social and historical issues that played out in the decade of the 1970's. The breakdown of social class is seen in the coming together of a group of mothers, mourning the loss of their sons in the Vietnam War, while celebrating their lives. The effects of poverty and drug addiction on women and children are illustrated by the "family business" of prostitution. The power of interlinked computers and telecommunications was in its infancy and creating excitement among the programmers who were thinking and dreaming big. The Vietnam War, moving towards its close in 1974, divided friends and family in New York City and elsewhere. The World Trade Center towers, newly constructed and occupied, represent a beginning in this novel, rather than the iconic destruction and terror we associate with them today.
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