To Reach the Clouds

‘One year after the nightmares of September 11, how good to remember that morning in 1974 when a young man gave New York a gift of astonishing, indelible beauty. How good that he has sat down now to give us this lively and often heart-stopping account of how he achieved his masterpiece’. Paul Auster

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 the Hardcover edition.

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