Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 was just one of many such performances by the artist. He made the crossing without a permit or permission to be in the building, so it’s little wonder he thinks of his actions as “coups” and has titled his book Creativity: The Perfect Crime. This is not a how-to book—it’s more of a this-is-how-I primer—but close readers will come away with both inspiration and useful instruction.

Petit describes his process of amassing vast amounts of information and linking ideas together before a new project takes shape, storing these files in an imagined hiding place. This fanciful approach is a helpful counterpoint to the reality of practicing on the rope, or with the juggling balls and clubs, for hours daily. When plotting your own creative coup, he recommends choosing accomplices with more attention to their character than the skills they bring to the project. “Watch bank-heist movies. You’ll see that each time a coup fails, it is due to human error, human limitation, human betrayal.”

There are a few exercises suggested here, such as learning to balance on either foot while blindfolded, and doing tasks with your non-dominant hand. However, it’s more enjoyable to just watch Petit as he works, drilling for hours to learn a new juggling move, or using a giant calendar both to track progress on a project and spur him to keep at it. Small sketches and copied pages from his notebooks show how he’ll code an entry with small pictograms, then use colored markers or additional notations to chart how things progressed.

Each chapter has a single word that appears in blue; readers can finish the chapter or skip to the end to read a brief stand-alone discussion of, say, bullfighting or the Golden Mean. It’s a gimmick, but a fun one. Anyone curious about Petit’s life and art, or hoping to draw inspiration for their own creative coup, will find ideas and insights in Creativity: The Perfect Crime.


This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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