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To Reach the Clouds Paperback – 2008
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He claims proudly to have been arrested 500 times for street-juggling and has written a variety of books on his art, but high-wire performer Phillipe Petit's latest slim volume recounts his biggest and most legendary coup. Back in 1971, after performing clandestine wire-walks on Notre Dame in Paris and Sydney Harbour Bridge, Petit set his sights on the ultimate target - walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, 110 stories above the streets of New York. Proceeding without any official permission, for the next three years Petit threw himself eagerly into the preparations, and the book details every step of the way, following his quest as he surrounds himself with a motley crew of volunteers while taking on a challenge that even he admits borders on insanity. Told with the breathless exuberance of a circus ringmaster, the book is divided into almost a hundred short chapters and effectively illustrated with a variety of black-and-white photographs, drawings and blueprints. Going from assembling the necessary equipment to his complex methods of evading security in the towers, Petit injects verve and poetry into his tale, and for every moment that he comes across as arrogant and pretentious, there's another where the sheer audacity of the scheme carries the story along on a wave of enthusiastic energy. Events finally lead to the high-wire walk itself, written as a vividly expressionistic piece of prose, and the chaotic aftermath where Petit faced the wrath of the New York authorities. But throughout this mischievous tale there's a haunting sense of poignancy. The September 11th tragedy is only mentioned in the closing pages but its echoes are felt throughout, and despite the occasionally overblown writing style, the book is a strangely moving glimpse into a safer, more innocent time, and an engaging story of realizing mad dreams against all odds. (Kirkus UK) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book is Petit's account of the entire project, from conception, to finish, to getting arrested, passing a psychiatric evaluation, and making good with law enforcement by giving a free performance for children in Central Park.
I'm fascinated by Petit's stunt on many levels. It was mischievous and audacious. When I first learned of it while watching the documentary Man on Wire on Netflix, I spent the beginning of the film thinking This guy is a moron. I ended thinking This guy is genius. There's also something poetic about an artist turning this symbol of commerce into a playground – especially given the eventual fate of the towers.
The main valuable lesson of Petit's feat is this: Have a big dream, but stick with small goals. Petit spent six years planning this coup. In the meantime, he and the team he assembled conducted hundreds of reconnoissance missions visiting the still-under-construction towers to collect details and plan. They built models and spoke to engineers. Petit did smaller stunts between towers of a cathedral in Paris, and between pylons of a bridge in Australia.
From the moment you see him on video, you can tell there is something special about Philippe. I bought this book because I saw part of his life story in the documentary, Man on Wire, which was turned into the Robert Zemeckis film, The Walk (a must-see in 3D). The sheer force of his personality is probably what convinced his lover and friends to accomplish "the artistic crime of the century." An event of this degree isn't likely to happen again for a long time.
This book is about that "crime"—walking between New York City's Twin Towers on a tightrope. Since I already saw the documentary and movie, this book felt like a rehash of the same events. The only difference is you get it straight from Philippe's head with his own words. To be honest, this whole event was so mind-boggling in that he actually accomplished it, that you have to read what he was thinking when he thought to do it.
If you haven't seen the movie or documentary, give this book a read. Experiencing this event through the eyes of the larger than life Mr. Petit will be memorable. Recommended.
Anyhow, upload it, read it, enjoy it, and feel free to love it or share my (minor) frustration.
The book is exactly like the video, not edited out of context as most movie makers like to do! The only thing better than owning the book would be to have it autographed by Mr. Petit. The original title of the book was "To Reach The Clouds", but to me, "Man On Wire" is much more meaningful - after all, how else would one describe what Mr. Petit was "booked" as?
Buy this book, I doubt you will be sorry for doing so.