Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy

by Ken Follett

Hardcover, 2010



Follows the fates of five interrelated families--American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh--as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.


(1628 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

Trotz peinlicher Sexszenen auf Groschenromanniveau und wie Untertassen dahinfliegender Dialoge: Ken Folletts neuer Roman ist gut recherchiert und freundlich-sozialdemokratisch - einer Verfilmung im Öffentlich-Rechtlichen steht nichts im Weg.
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Die Aufteilung von erfundenen Schicksalen und weltgeschichtlich verbürgten Ereignissen löst Follett perfekt.
Overall, Follett is ­masterly in conveying so much drama and historical information so vividly. He puts to good use the professional skills he has honed over the years — giving his characters a conversational style neither pseudo-quaint nor jarringly contemporary. That works well. And for all his belief in the redemptive quality of liberal humanism, he makes sure not to endow his characters with excessively modern sensibilities. As for the occasional cliché — well, unless you’re Tolstoy, you’re not going to have the time or the ability to be original throughout your 1,000-page blockbuster. Ken Follett is no Tolstoy, but he is a tireless storyteller, and although his tale has flaws, it’s grippingly told, and readable to the end.
Despite all this, "Fall of Giants" offers pleasures that more than compensate for its lack of literary finesse. Follett may not be Tolstoy, but he knows how to tell a compelling, well-constructed story. Once its basic elements are in place, the narrative acquires a cumulative, deceptively effortless momentum.
La caída de los gigantes sumerge al lector en una historia cargada de épica. Ésta primera novela, que forma parte de una trilogía, sigue los destinos de cinco familias diferentes a lo largo y ancho del mundo. Desde América a Alemania, Rusia, Inglaterra y Gales, Follet sigue la evolución de sus personajes a través de la Primera Guerra Mundial, la Revolución Rusa y las primeras luchas por los derechos de la mujer. Como siempre, Follet pone un especial interés por su tierra natal, Gales, al comenzar con la historia de Billy Williams, un sencillo minero; en América encontramos a Gus Dewar, un estudiante de derecho con el corazón partido por un desengaño amoroso. En Rusia, dos hermanos huérfanos, Grigori y Lev se ven en medio de una revolución que trastoca sus vidas y acaba por separar sus caminos. Como nudo entre las historias encontramos a la hermana de Williams, quien trabaja en Inglaterra como ama de llaves de Lady Fitzherbert, enamorada de un espía alemán, Walter von Ulrich. Poco a poco estos personajes irán encontrándose a medida que la inmensa maquinaria creada por Follet avance, tan deprisa y violenta como el principio del siglo XX en el que se ven inmersos.
A lot happens on the first page of Ken Follett’s “Fall of Giants.” King George V is crowned at Westminster Abbey. A Welsh boy named Billy Williams turns 13 and begins his wretched life as a coal miner. And Mr. Follett, who was once a Welsh boy himself but grew up to become his generation’s most vaunted writer of colorless historical epics, kicks off a whopping new trilogy. His apparent ambition: to span the whole 20th century in blandly adequate novels so fat that they’re hard to hoist.

User reviews

LibraryThing member karieh
I’ve read and enjoyed many of Ken Follett’s books – and “Fall of Giants” was the same type of book for me. While the sheer heft of the thing (my copy is 985 pages) makes it more difficult to read on a plane, a beach or by a pool – it’s that type of book. The type that keeps you turning the pages even when the quality of the writing would not.

This book is the first of a new “Century Trilogy” – dealing with the WWI era. The sense of major change in the world pervades the book – new social norms and systems of government form the backbone of the happenings in the characters lives. And, I did learn a few interesting things – that Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to visit Europe during his term in office, for instance.

As much as I understand the waves of change that were happening at this time, I did find it interesting that every man (save a couple) seemed to desire a “new” sort of woman – one unafraid to speak her mind/break the rules. And all the women (save a couple) depicted seemed to be just that type. Again, I know it was time period relevant, but sometimes the only seemed that the only thing that differentiated the main female characters was their hair color.

And yet - the reader is drawn back to that time. A time of such turmoil and bloodshed…and innocence. So much is yet to come, the reader and the writer know, and the characters are hapless to avoid the first World War.

“All his life he would cherish the memory of an endless caravan of camels alongside the railway line, the laden beasts plodding patiently through the snow, ignoring the twentieth century as it hurtled past them in a clash of iron and a shriek of steam.”

For Follett fans – this book is just what it they are looking for – another sweeping epic full of characters and details. For other readers – the story may prove interesting as a way to while away many hours.
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LibraryThing member picardyrose
Oh, dear.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This is the fifth novel by Follett I've read and it is certainly the worst of the ones I've read. .The events of World War One referred to are dumbed down as if author assumed the reader was learning of the events for the first time.. The characters are unbelievably stick-;like.. Even when interesting things are discussed I found the language boring and inane. There is no danger I will read volume II of the trilogy. .… (more)
LibraryThing member kmajort
A favorite author, he does such a good job with the research.
LibraryThing member mojomomma
I love Follett's historical fiction. This series will cover the twentieth century and this volume begins the saga during the build-up to World War I. We meet several different families who all in some way have a ringside seat to the events that shape our current world. The Williams of Wales, the Fitzherberts of Wales and London, the von Ulrich's of Germany, the Dewars of New York, and Lev and Grigori represent our Russian peasants. Of course, the families all get tangled up and come into play with each other, but suspend your disbelief at these wild coincidences and go with it. This is a fabulous plot, based on the history and politics of the early 20th century. I understand the build-up to the WWI as never before--it goes a lot deeper than the assassination of one Archduke.… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
First in a new immense and sweeping historical saga covering much of the twentieth century, this was brilliant. I thought it was better than Pillars of the Earth (much though I loved that). The run up to the outbreak of WWI was very gripping and dramatic: the sense of incomprehension that the great powers of Europe can really be headed towards conflict, the desperation of the efforts of those striving for peace, then the horrors of war itself. The chapter on the first day of the Battle of the Somme is immensely moving. There is a rich cast of characters from English and Russian aristocrats, Welsh miners, Russian revolutionaries, American and German diplomats, Russian and American gangsters and thugs. The characters were generally more rounded and believable than in Pillars, though the author's sympathies are pretty clear. By the end it was 1923 and the scene was well set for the sequel, with the first (minority) Labour Government elected in Britain, disillusion settling in among some Russian revolutionaries as the Bolshevik Government's tyranny becomes more evident, and the failure of the Munich beer hall putsch and the trial and imprisonment of the demagogue Adolf Hitler. I look forward to the second volume, The Winter of the World. 5/5… (more)
LibraryThing member cwlongshot
I haven't read a bad book by Ken Follett, and this book is no exception. I was drawn into the story immediately by the characters that Follett is so good at developing. The book was a nice segue from the PBS Masterpiece drama "Downton Abbey," which ends just as WWI is beginning whereas Fall of Giants starts just as WWI begins. If you like historical drama, this is a fun read. I look forward to reading the second book in the series.… (more)
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I listened to this book which was narrated by John Lee. As with all of Follett's books, or at least the ones I have read, this book is epic in scope. It spans about 15 years from before World War I until some time after that tragic war. But it also tells the stories of people caught up in the events of that time and so it makes the time very personal.

We are introduced to the Williams family in Wale as thirteen-year-old Billy starts work in the coal mine. His sister, Ethel, works for the local gentry, the Fitzherberts, as a maid but is raised to housekeeper when the incumbent fell ill just before a royal visit. Earl Fitzherbert invited a number of bright young men to meet the king including Germans Walter and Robert von Ulrich and the American lawyer Gus Dewar. The earl is married to a Russian princess whom he met when he was a diplomat in St. Petersburg. The earl's sister, Lady Maude Fitzherbert who is a suffragette much to her brother's dismay, is also in attendance. The earl's wife's family in Russia hung the father of Grigori and Lev Peshkov because he was trying to organize the local peasants. Grigori and Lev moved to St. Petersburg with their mother who was soon killed by the Tsar's militia. Grigori looked after the younger Lev but dreamed of moving to the USA. Gus Dewar, who had a tour of the factory where Grigori and Lev worked when he was in Russia, was able to answer some questions Grigori had. All these people interact to some degree even through the war. It's a bit of a job to keep all the threads separate but it is a compelling tale. I particularly liked the last scene of the book.
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LibraryThing member NatalieAlanna
Great book. As a history lover I really enjoy how historically accurent Ken Follet is in his stories. The narrative was rich and exciting and I loved this book as well as the 2nd book in the trilogy, Winter of the World. I cant wait until the last book comes out this year!
LibraryThing member santhony
After reading and enjoying Follett's two medieval novels, I read a couple of his other books and found them to be far less satisfying. I took a chance on this one, because it seemed more in the mold of the sweeping historical fiction I'd found in the earlier work. Much as with Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (which I found to be essentially the same novel), I found this book to be relatively entertaining, and even in some cases educational.

Some have complained about the formulaic and stereotypical portrayals in the novel, and there certainly is some basis for those complaints. However, stereotypes develop for a reason, and I can't say that most of the characters contained in the book strained credibility. As for being formulaic, it is historical fiction and for the most part, faithfully follows the course of the war and the events that preceeded it.

That having been said, is this a literary tour de force? Certainly not. Is it an entertaining bit of historical fiction? I found it so. Not up to the standards of Michener or Edward Rutherfurd, but not a one or two star effort by any means. Anyone that thinks so has certainly either been very fortunate in their reading selections or led a very sheltered literary life.

My biggest criticism of this book would probably be the numerous sexual encounters vividly described therein; not because I’m a prude, or dislike erotic reading, but because they are so sophomoric and silly. Many have no purpose other than to simply introduce sex into the storyline. Had they been well written, believable and perhaps more integral to the story, they might have been enjoyable. As they are, they simply cause one to roll one’s eyes in amusement.

A second irritating feature of the novel is the ridiculous coincidences that occur at several points in the story. There are billions of people in the world, yet the same people have a remarkable way of traveling throughout the world and mysteriously running into each other, despite having no reason to do so. As with the gratuitous sex, it doesn’t destroy the novel, but detracts from it nevertheless.

On the plus side, the historical backdrop is one not commonly found, World War I, the Russian Revolution and the years leading to those monumental events, from the British, Russian, German and American perspectives (after all, who really cares about the French?). Despite being a big fan of historical fiction and non-fiction history, I can honestly say that this novel taught me quite a few things of which I was not aware. That, and the fact that I found it moderately entertaining, easily overcame the minor drawbacks cited above.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2010, Penguin Audio, Read by John Lee

Follett endeared himself to me with Pillars of the Earth, followed by World Without End. This one is another sweeping historical saga set in Europe and North America in the twentieth century, encompassing World War I and the Russian Revolutions. Characters serve the plot, as I’ve come to expect from Follett, and appear in a myriad of interesting roles: aristocrats, coal miners, fallen women, soldiers, diplomats, and politicians. Among them: miner Billy Williams and his sister, Ethel, a woman’s suffragist; German officer Walter von Ulrich; Lord Fitzherbert and his rebellious sister, Maude; and the Peshkov brothers. This is the second of Follett’s epic tales I’ve heard narrated by John Lee, who is excellent.… (more)
LibraryThing member Luli81
I finished "The Fall of the Giants" yesterday night, just on time for it to be my last book of the year.

And what a brilliant finale.

This book is a compulsory reading for those who appreciate a well done job. Follet has a special talent to mix historical events with fiction creating a reliable atmosphere where you can really imagine what it would have been like to live at the beginning of the XXth century. And he does it splendidly as you have different views from a wide range of people: Welsh coal miners, the remains of the Edwardian British nobility, revolutionary working classes, Prime Ministers, Presidents and secret agents.

We are able to follow different characters in Britain, America, Germany and Russia and come to understand the complex events that led the world to the WWI. I've never been really drawn to politics but I have to admit that this book caught my attention, and for the first time I fully understood the reasons why all the countries fought the way they did. And as usual, with this knowledge, I got rid of some cliches acquired over the years, realising that there weren't guilty or innocent countries, heroes or damned, just a bunch of people acting proudly, recklessly and without real grasp of the consequences of their acts. Acting like humans, in the end, committing stupid mistakes and being too proud to admit it.

The result: devastation, millions and millions of wasted lives, unlimited suffering.

But also: change, progress, hope, justice.

It's even more surprising that the people who changed history were our great-grandparents, a brave generation who had the guts to live through a war and create something good out of it.

They didn't know what was coming though...and I can't wait for the second novel in this trilogy to see it in live through Follet's characters.
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LibraryThing member libraryhermit
When I discovered The Pillars of The Earth and started reading it, World Without End was already in print, so I was not one of those people who had to wait years before being able to read the second of the two books.
But no such luck for me in the present instance because I picked up Fall of Giants as soon as it was released, and now I am going to have to wait God knows how long for parts 2 and 3 of The Century Trilogy. I will be just dying of curiosity to know what will happen next to Fitz, Bea, Maud, Walter, Grigori, Lev, Billy, Ethel, Katrina, and all of their babies who are still quite young.
But that is alright because all of us who have read this first book can let our imaginations run wild in the meantime. When books 2 and 3 finally do come out, we can find out how prescient we were. I think Lev and Grigori are due for a final showdown. The reconciliation at the end of book 1 cannot possibly hold. Or perhaps it will fall to their respective sons and daughters to have a nasty fight. I can't wait to see. And all of the descendants of the Fitzherbert and the Willams families are bound to have some skirmish in the future. Long live the multi-generational family saga.
I do agree with the comment of one reviewer who was disappointed that no French family was among the list of main characters. But perhaps that would have made the cast too unwieldy.
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LibraryThing member Joanne53
Just move the Pillars of the Earth and World Without End to Edwardian Britian, Russia before and during the Revolution and America of the early 20th century and you get an amazing story. Well researched and informative...pulls you into the story and doesn't let you go....
LibraryThing member YossarianXeno
Follett is very much a hit and miss author; his first book, Pillars of the Earth, and its sequel, published a couple of decades later, are compelling, well researched historical sagas, but others in his back catalogue just average thrillers at best. This, an account of the inter-related lives of individuals in the UK, Germany, the US and Russia (oddly no significant French characters) in the build up to, during and just after World War 1 falls into the first category. It is pacy and eminently readable, if contrived in places; the characters well rounded, though Follett has no qualms adopting a stereotype; it is clearly carefully researched. It isn't great literature, but it is a good, enjoyable read. I'm sure the TV serialisation won't be that far off.… (more)
LibraryThing member Renz0808
I adored Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and the World Without End, so I was really excited about reading the Fall of Giants especially because it takes place during one of my favorite time periods before WWI. This book is about a cast of characters from different backgrounds American, British, Welsh, German, and Russian and their interactions with each other before, during and after the events of WWI. I really enjoyed the historical information and even though I am not usually a fan of battle scenes I thought all of this added to the book. All of the major aspects of the war, political ramifications and major world events of the time period can be found in detail. There really is something for everyone. The only problem I had with the novel was the blending of the character's lives and the relationship with each other and history. It seemed like there was too many characters to keep up with and too many story lines to blend into history. Some sections read a bit to choppy. It might have been more beneficial to have made this particular book into a trilogy in itself instead of making the next two books about later periods of the century. Despite this, I found myself turing pages rapidly and constantly thinking about the book and wondering what was going to happen.… (more)
LibraryThing member rmmohamm
I thought this was an excellent novel. The characters are very well developed and truly diversed, all coming together and intertwining in one way or another. Can't wait for the rest of the century to be told through Follet's eyes.
LibraryThing member janewh
A fascinating human picture of life affected by WWI told by a master storyteller
LibraryThing member elsyd
Big Book! Big Story! I really enjoyed this book for many reasons. It's a good history of the first world war. I really had not ever read anything about it. I found it interesting how much the second world war paralelled the first. I'm looking forward to following these families in the 2nd book of the trilogy.
LibraryThing member Joycepa
The first in a proposed trilogy of the fictionalized history of the 20th century, Fall of Giants takes place between 1904 and 1926, and follows the fortunes of a Welsh mining family, members of an English aristocratic family who are landowners and coal mine owners in Wales, a scion of a German noble house who is in the Imperial diplomatic corps stationed in England, and two brothers living in St.Petersburg, Russia.

The story is absorbing, covering working conditions both in Welsh coal mines and in Russian factories and bringing to light the general living conditions of the times. The assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne in June, 1914, provokes a major crisis. Walter, the German diplomat, is an example of the more enlightened younger generation of Germans which sees war as a disaster, while his father welcomes it. Follett does an excellent job of showing the choices made at each point, where war could have been averted, and the attitudes that led to the disaster of World War I. Grigori and Lev, the two russian brothers, take drastically different paths, Lev escaping with his brother’s help to the US while Grigori gets caught up in the war and the subsequent Russian revolution.

For much of the book, Follett’s prose is pretty workman-like--adequate but no more. But he is at his best (after all, he wrote plenty of thrillers before he turned to historical fiction) in describing the prelude to the war, the Great War itself, and the Russian revolution. In fact, I think the best part of the book--for me, the most gripping--is his practically minute-by-minute account of the takeover of the Russian Revolution by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. This section alone is worth reading the entire book.

While the writing quality is uneven, the story never is. The characters are believable and the appearances of Churchill, Lenin, Lloyd George and other historical figures is well done and based either on events that happened or events that are quite plausible.

All in all, an excellent read even if the prose is at time laborious.
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LibraryThing member tvordj
This is the first of a trilogy. As such, it doesn't really "end". It feels more like the end of another chapter and you could easily turn the page for more. Having said that, it doesn't end on a "cliffhanger" either so you aren't going to sit in suspense waiting for the next of the three books.

Fall of Giants follows the ups and downs of a number of characters from various classes and countries and will, I expect, follow them and the subsquent generations through the next 100 years since this is the "Century Trilogy". It opens in the years before World War I and most of the book covers the war, it's events and it's politics as seen by officers, regular soldiers, women and traces the rise of the Soviets and the Russian Revolution.

We see life from the viewpoints of the poor in Russia and a mining village in Wales where an Earl and his family also live. We see the lives of the upper class British, a middle class man from the USA and another from Germany. All of the people that start the book off as struggling working poor work themselves up a bit by the end in various ways, mainly through politics, some by luck and the seat of their pants.

The book is heavy on politics from the "inside" (Britain, Germany, Russia and military) which might be a bit dull for some people who aren't into history, and light on romance though there is a bit of that, too. The characters seem very well thought out and drawn out and you get a very good feel for life in the various locations at that time. I have to admit that i skimmed through some of the war and battle scenes but thought that my father would have enjoyed it all. I did find the politics behind the Russian Revolution quite interesting and learned a few things about how WWI really started.

I did like the book, but it won't be to everyone's taste. If you like politics and/or history, you will enjoy it. If you like historical romance with a little bit of the above, you probably won't.
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LibraryThing member MarkMeg
The story of the first world war as told through the eyes of an American, a German, an English and a Russian soldier and their families. Contains romance. Some basis in fact and more "romance." Fun reading.
LibraryThing member kyliemole
Not too bad, look out for the next one along
LibraryThing member isomdm
Not as good as Pillars of the Earth but a good story about WWI
LibraryThing member plb1934
While I did not like Pillers of the Earth or World Without End I thought this book was a great read-plb




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