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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

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  •  
    Robert Encino, CA, United States 01-27-10
    Robert Encino, CA, United States 01-27-10 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An essential addition to your Audible library."

    This is a book of beauty and grace. The writing is astonishing. The descriptions and insights are sometimes so deep and true that you will stop to savor the thought. While the book looks at life in an unblinking manner, it is redemptive and affirming. It will affect your outlook on life, in a good way.

    But what makes this book great is that McCann has brought to life multiple characters whose lives have been touched by observing a common event in New York in 1974. As soon as I started to listen to this book, I had to buy the hardcover version--which I did and which is a magnificent work.

    BUT--the Audible version is better than the hardcover. This is a book of voices--in much the same way that Dylan Thomas wrote "Under Milkwood" as a play for voices on the radio. Each chapter in the book is narrated by a different character. In the audio version, each chapter (and character) is narrated by a different actor. The narration is superb and adds a rich and fullfilling dimension to the book that makes it all the more impressive and enjoyable.

    If you cherish the great listens in your Audible collection as I do, this is an essential addition. I know that I will listen to it again.

    37 of 37 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Green 12-23-09
    Mark Green 12-23-09 Member Since 2009
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    "A Rare Gem"

    In response to the negative reviews, who claim that the book is without or thin on plot. The plot is not the center-point or focus of the novel, I assure you though it has plot(s). McCann does not spoon feed you though.

    The beauty of of this book, however, is discovered in the novels characters. McCann has fleshed out characters so masterfully that it is difficult to believe they are fictional. You get to step into their minds and lives as if you are their closest friends. He lays out their actions and thoughts without condemning or defending them. The novel isn't sentimental, pretentious or judgmental. You will walk on the wire beside each character, watching as their decisive steps carry them back to the safety of the ledge or... you get the point.

    I must say, also, the readers are exceptional.

    As I listened and/or read, I did not have a sense that I had merely heard a good story, rather that McCann increased the size of my soul. Put another way, Let The Great World Spin, made me feel more deeply human.

    22 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura Mead, WA, USA 01-16-10
    Laura Mead, WA, USA 01-16-10
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    "Wonderful"

    Before you read or listen, rent the documentary about Petit's walk entitled "Man on Wire." It's great schema to have. The metaphor of the tightrope is beautiful and thought provoking. Loved every minute of this book and couldn't wait to get back into the car each morning for my commute to work, just so I could be alone with it for 40 uninterrupted minutes.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 12-20-09
    JOHN Plantation, FL, United States 12-20-09 Member Since 2003

    Audible Member Since 2003

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "How can you not love this book?"

    This is a beautifully written book, that from the outset takes hold and never lets you go. Beginning with the real-life 1974 event of a daredevil tightrope walker who dances on the highwire between the World Trade Towers 110 stories up, this book is more about the lives of the people who see him and of some who don't.

    The story is gritty, organic, painful and beautiful, all woven together in a tapestry of real life. The common thread is, the tightrope walker.

    I love wonderful prose and natural dialogue, and this book has it all. It pulls no punches and shows us life as it is, with no slick window dressing.

    Colum McCann won The National Book Award for Fiction for a good reason. He wrote a great book. The audio performances too are perfect.

    Highly recommended.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Justin North Brunswick, NJ, United States 12-14-09
    Justin North Brunswick, NJ, United States 12-14-09
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    "Excellent dramatic performances"

    If you're looking for an audiobook with a single story that continues and builds to a climax, "Let The Great World Spin" may not be for you. Where this book excels is in the narration. Rather than a single narrator reading many characters throughout the whole book, each chapter is presented from the perspective of a different character and is narrated by a different actor. Some are better than others (Middle-aged prostitute "Tillie" is phenomenal, while 18 year old computer hacker "Ben" isn't very convincing as a young, lovesick geek), but all give the book a unique perspective.

    Rather than a main story that builds as the book goes on, "Let The Great World Spin" attempts to illustrate how, weaved around a single day, a diverse cast of characters touch each others lives, sometimes without even realizing.

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    InsideADog Goleta, CA 03-23-10
    InsideADog Goleta, CA 03-23-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Thoroghly Enjoyed"

    I thought this story was well written, put together with intrigue, and told in a poignant manner. I enjoyed the variety of readers and felt they were well matched to their parts. My parents were both born in NY and I have visted many times. It was a strong look at the city and the people of that city. After finishing I found myself wanting to know more about the development of the story. I highly recommend this listening.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew George Chevy Chase, MD, US 03-12-10
    Andrew George Chevy Chase, MD, US 03-12-10 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Books where nothing happens"

    Someone needs to list all of the great books that also happen to be painfully boring audiobooks, so I know which ones to avoid. This book would figure prominently on such a list.

    I've come to find that beautifully written books where nothing happens tend to make poor audiobooks. That's exactly the case here. This book creates a vivid set of characters, but it basically stops there. I need more than that in an audiobook, I need to be entertained as well as impressed by use of language. Especially because I can't see and appreciate the words on the page.

    I don't think that's a personal failing, but if it is, then I'd recommend that anyone who shares that failing stick to great books where things also happen to happen.

    24 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sandra L. Jacob US 12-18-09
    Sandra L. Jacob US 12-18-09 Member Since 2008

    Sleo

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    "A great symphony of a book"

    The rich and lyrical writing kept me interested until I began to see the pattern of this novel, a tapestry of lives interwoven and connected and then I relaxed and listened with the sort of satisfaction gained when dining on something delicious and and delicate and rich all at the same time, and with sadness when it came to an end.

    All the cbaracters' lives are connected with the tightrope walker, who acts out the dangerous tightrope of the lives of all the characters, some of whom fall and some of whom make it to the other side. Well worth the read and I can certainly see why it won the National Book Award.

    Thank the good lord for audio books that I can listen to as I go about my daily business and thus 'read' many more books than I would otherwise.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    11-19-09
    11-19-09 Member Since 2005
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    "Outstanding"

    I am not a reviewer however I feel the need to say how outstanding this book is. In so many ways it is a work of art. A book that stays with you and helps to teach the impossible...read it!

    27 of 34 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 12-03-12
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 12-03-12 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Sublime picture of a moment, brilliant in audio"

    If you’ve never seen the documentary, Man on a Wire, which tells the story of Philippe Petit’s illicit tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, I recommend it highly. Let the Great World Spin isn’t strictly about that event, but uses it as a lit-fic centerpiece for a set of interconnected stories and vignettes that span a cross-section of New York City at that moment in time.

    Like Petit, each protagonist seems to be in the middle of his or her own balancing act, putting on a performance for the public while dealing with a private drama. There’s a young Irish monk, whose ministry to the streetwalkers of the Bronx and a God he’s determined to find in their lives falls somewhere between folly and true devotion. There’s a group of mothers meeting for mutual support after losing their sons in Vietnam, the universality of grief contending with their vast class differences. There’s a prostitute approaching forty, who has made many bad decisions, yet still has a riveting account to give of herself and her life. There’s a weary city judge, caught between the opposing goals of dispensing justice and not clogging an overburdened court system. And there’s Petit himself, whose walk is not a crass stunt, but appears to be a profound act of artistic purity.

    In my opinion, Colum McCann does a stunning job of putting the reader inside the minds of his diverse characters. There’s a real poetry and melancholy beauty to the writing, and I felt that I knew each of these people intimately in a few pages, just from the voice and a collection of small details. The talented voice actors who performed the audiobook deserve a lot of credit as well, giving McCann’s prose authentic texture and tone. Not every piece works equally well -- a sequence featuring early computer hackers comes across as a little fanciful and forced -- but, mostly, I was impressed with the amount of time the author must have put into research.

    Some readers feel that there isn’t enough “story”, but, to me, there didn’t need to be. The vignettes themselves aren’t complex, but as the book moves forward, they begin to build on one another, exploring what different perceptions people can have of the same events, and each other. I enjoy books where I get one thing out of a sequence on first read, but a different impression in light of later chapters, and this was one. Together, the individual tales imbue the space between them with an ineffable landscape of grief and redemption, time and memory.

    Without a doubt, this was one of finest audiobooks I’ve listened to this year. It was a pleasure to soak in the voices, the sensory details, and that aching sense of a lost moment suspended in time. This is what literary fiction is about.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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