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Let the Great World Spin | [Colum McCann]

Let the Great World Spin

A Pushcart Prize-winning author and contributor to the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and GQ, Colum McCann is renowned for his carefully constructed character studies. No exception, Let the Great World Spin follows the fortunes of a menagerie of New Yorkers through a day in 1974 - the day of Philippe Petit's death defying tightrope walk between the newly built Twin Towers.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, Colum McCann's latest effort will not disappoint, and neither will its narration. In this dizzying tale of redemption and connection, McCann's world spins on the historic day in August 1974 when all of New York City paused to look up and watch Philippe Petit walk a high wire between the towers of the World Trade Center. The book is not precisely about September 11th, but it is perhaps the only compelling treatment of the subject so far. As the city finds hope in this mysterious moment a quarter century before the Twin Towers fell, so too do McCann's central characters build bridges toward the beauty in each other.

Gerard Doyle, known mainly for his voice work in children's stories, immediately steals the show with the long opening narration. Telling the history of the brothers Corrigan — how one became a radical monk, how both came to New York, how one lost his life, how both fell in love — Doyle's Dublin flavor is pitch-perfect from the high notes of hilarity to the low notes of bitter remorse. Woven across this Irish wit are the street-smart musings of the prostitutes they befriend in the Bronx. Three generations of fiercely independent black women, all voiced with distinction and clarity by the remarkable Patricia Floyd, search for ways to hold on to the best parts of themselves as they struggle to make do with the cards they are dealt. Her disjointed, poetic rendering of Tillie, the 38-year-old grandmother reminiscing in her cell on Rikers Island, has some of the most poignant moments in the novel.

But the threads are not all fraught with lower class turmoil. Way up in a Park Avenue penthouse, a gaggle of grieving mothers try to keep up appearances while flushing out the heartaches of their several sons who were killed in Vietnam. The father of one of these young soldiers, of course, is the judge who will sentence both Tillie's daughter and the high wire walker within hours of each other. McCann's ambitious effort to show the interconnectedness of these seemingly disparate lives is neither underwhelmingly predictable nor overwhelmingly tenuous. As McCann winds the wire ever more tightly around his subjects, the truly exciting thing is to hear a character's voice come back in a new narrator's mouth, until the cacophony of new perspectives on familiar faces melds into one great, spinning world. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Fiction, 2009

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 best-selling novelist Colum McCann's stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Let the Great World Spin is the critically acclaimed author's most ambitious novel yet: a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.

Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gather in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. Tillie, a 38-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth.

Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann's powerful allegory comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city's people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the "artistic crime of the century". A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as a "fiercely original talent" (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.

©2009 Colum McCann; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC

What the Critics Say

"Colum McCann's marvelously rich novel Let the Great World Spin puts us on the sidewalks and in that city, watching that dot in the sky 'like a pencil mark, most of which had been erased.' Through a Joycean tangle of voices-including that of a fictionalized Petit-he weaves a portrait of a city and a moment, dizzyingly satisfying to read and difficult to put down." (Seattle Times)
"[McCann's] description of the walk itself would do a ballet critic proud. And if some of his other attempts to elevate work into myth are strained, he succeeds with his image of a flight that lifts the heaviness of a whole city." (Boston Globe)
"McCann has written more than a supremely woven tapestry of imagined lives; through their struggles, he clears a path for healing and redemption from the cataclysm of a later time." (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (1155 )
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  •  
    Jan Conroy Los Gatos, CA USA 06-06-10
    Jan Conroy Los Gatos, CA USA 06-06-10 Listener Since 2007

    South Bay Reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A wonderful look at the Big Apple"

    I selected this book for my long-running ladies book club and we really enjoyed it. The writing is lovely and we all enjoyed how different aspects of the city were vividly portrayed by McCann's oh, so complex characters. I highly recommend this book.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin Charlton New York 01-16-10
    Kevin Charlton New York 01-16-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Absolutely Fantastic"

    This was an amazing book and a fascinating reading. Both the author and narrators brought an incredibly wide variety of voices to light.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jimmy Salt Lake City, UT, USA 01-11-10
    Jimmy Salt Lake City, UT, USA 01-11-10
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    "Captivating and Thought Provoking Read"

    Let the Great World Spin was a mesmerizing and enthralling read. As it intertwined and unfolded I found myself becoming more and more consumed. By the end I was blown away by the depth and significance of the plot line and characters. McCann does a brilliant job of painting the picture of New York City in 1974.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bald Brunswick, ME, United States 12-28-09
    Bald Brunswick, ME, United States 12-28-09 Member Since 2006
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    "Mining the lives of lonely New Yorkers"

    The story moves through a number of lonely, lost lives. Tragedy, sadness, disappointment. I felt as though I was peering under a dark cloud at the people who called it home, and above it all was a daredevil who walked on a wire.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lee Blue Anchor, NJ, United States 04-03-10
    Lee Blue Anchor, NJ, United States 04-03-10 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    82
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    "As good as everyone says it is"

    This is another great one! Great narration, excellent book...Even the title is wonderful.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 11-02-13
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 11-02-13 Member Since 2005

    malfi

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    "Too Contrived"

    Let the Great World Spin is one of those "must read" books that everyone raves about but that I somehow resisted reading until now. What finally pushed me to read it was how much I admired McCann's most recent novel, Transatlantic. While I ended up being mildly disappointed, maybe that's good news: since Transatlantic is so much the better of the two, that must mean that McCann's writing is getting better, and I can look forward to his next endeavor.

    I'm a great fan of novels told from multiple points of view and in multiple voices, but a number of things in this novel smacked too hard of artifice, in my opinion. For one thing, there were just too many coincidences. I get it: New York may be a big city, but in the end, we're living in a small world. Well . . . really, it's not THAT small. The judge who sentences the prostitute is married to the woman who is in a group for grieving mothers whose sons were killed in Vietnam where she meets an African-American woman who is the neighbor who takes in the granddaughters of the prostitute because the prostitute's daughter was killed in an automobile accident, and the driver, who was also killed, was the monk who devoted his life to watching out for prostitutes, and his brother figures out that the woman who comes to the girl's funeral was in the car that caused the hit-and-run, but they fall in love and get married . . . um, no, sorry, the world is rarely that small and our lives are rarely that contrived. I would have enjoyed the novel more had McCann not felt compelled to devise such links between each character's story. It really wasn't necessary, since he already relied on the frame of Petit's tightrope walk between the World Trade Center Towers, which at least half of the characters have seen or heard about. I hope that McCann structures his next novel on something other than unexpected coincidences--something that he used in Transatlantic as well, but with a much subtler hand.

    My feelings about the characters themselves are mixed. Too many of them--especially the minority characters--fall into stereotypes, and to some extent, the book is just too big and too ambitious to allow us to get a real sense of any of them. Some, like the California hackers, seemed totally pointless (not to mention irritating).

    By now, you may be wondering if I liked anything about this book and why I gave it 3.5 stars. Well, there are those moments when the writing itself absolutely soars, and these moments make it all worthwhile. McCann has a touch of the poet in him, and when he doesn't let it get away from him and flounder into the melodramatic, his writing can be wonderful. And in retrospect, it's interesting to see how much he has progressed in using similar techniques in Transatlantic.

    So . . . 3.5 stars. If you haven't read Transatlantic yet, you really should. Skip Let the Great World Spin and then wait for McCann's next novel.

    On the audiobook: I normally don't care for versions that use multiple actors for the various narrators, but it worked quite well here, and each narrator did a veryh fine job.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 03-31-13
    Chris Reich Northern, CA 03-31-13 Member Since 2005

    Business Physicist and Astronomer

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    "I'm Torn and Maybe That Means Something"

    I am embarrassed to report that I did not particularly care for this book though there were parts I found interesting.

    But books like this, books of different stories that all come together, are very dangerous territory for a writer. It can become very easy to be trite in the joining of stories. This book doesn't join the disparate stories except to use the big event as a sort of shutter release to grab the time frame. For that, I give the author credit. Thank you.

    The guy on the wire is the camera and the wire the shutter release. Cameras do no judge. Cameras do not know they are taking an image. They just do it.

    I liked the stories somewhat but did not find them particularly deep. Deep material but not deeply explored. Okay, not THAT deep.

    But here's the difficulty with this book. It demands to be in a better league than all the vampire trash being cranked out today. Next to most books, it's a 10 star read out of a possible 5. Keep that in mind. I'm grading on a steep curve here.

    So if you put this in the class of literature, it gets a solid C grade. But then, very little writing is literature. In the class of all books, give it a B+.

    That's why I'm torn. I want to encourage literature and I do recommend the book. But I cannot rank it with Updike or Heller.

    You decide. And tell me what you think.

    Chris Reich, TeachU

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 06-27-12
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 06-27-12 Member Since 2009

    Addicted to audiobooks & podcasts. 5 Stars=I Loved It, 4 Stars=Enjoyed it Thoroughly, 3=Kinda Good, 2=Bad/Boring, 1=Complete Waste of Credit

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Well Done - 4 Stars"

    I'm so glad I decided to spend a credit on this literary masterpiece - this one goes in the "win" column for sure. The characters and their lives are intertwined so expertly that they could easily stand alone as short stories - yet the way they all link to each other is truly the most enjoyable aspect of the work. The tightrope walker performs high above a city rushing with life - his motivation is simply to perform his craft, oblivious to the powerful imprints he leaves on the minds of the people watching below. The use of a different narrator for each character was a real treat - I wish more audio books could be done this way. I highly recommend this selection.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    06-20-10
    06-20-10
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    "Slowest most boring book I've listened to in ages."

    No idea where the 5 star ratings are coming from or how this book won an award. It's so slow I had no interest in any of the charaters or what happened to them, no matter how hard I tried. I kept forcing myself to listen thinking..omg it's got to get better..but it only got less interesting. I listen to on avg 8 books on the best seller list a month and this is by far one of the worst in a very long time. Don't waste your points. It's not even well written with most of the sentences having only about 5 words. How did this book win an award!?!?!?!?!??! omg!!

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eileen Montclair, NJ, USA 06-20-10
    Eileen Montclair, NJ, USA 06-20-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A performance"

    I'll preface this review by saying that I'm relatively new to audiobooks, and prefer reading to listening, especially since I usually listen when I'm commuting to work. I enjoyed this book, although I don't care for "staged" readings, but prefer instead to imagine characters' voices. The narrators in this book were very good, though, and I didn't find them at all distracting or out of agreement with my own sense of the voices. The book itself is terrific, with wonderful writing and a story that keeps you moving toward the end. I'd like to read the hard copy some day, though -- I found myself wanting to go back and pick up threads and view the events and characters in light of one another.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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