The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett

Hardcover, 2007




William Morrow (2007), 973 pages


Adventure saga of 12th century England, from a stone mason whose dream is to build a glorious cathedral to a man of God in a web of dangerous political intrigue.

Media reviews

Great literature? Of course not. To begin with, the plot relies far too heavily on coincidence, and the characters tend to be chiseled into predictability. The writing depends heavily on dialogue - and although it's well-done dialogue, it's the stuff of escapism, not of the ages. But so what? It's a long, rich and rewarding story, full of glory and violence told in the tradition of medieval troubadors. Few among us could turn away from a tale that begins: ''The small boys came early to the hanging.''
1 more
A novel of majesty and power.

User reviews

LibraryThing member snat
This book was popular? As in a mini-phenomenon? Seriously? Am I being punked? Tell the truth--no one else read the book. It was all an elaborate media/pop culture scheme to trick me into reading this book. Please lie to me about this. I'm not sure I can go on living if I have to believe that this is what my fellow man is reading these days.

My utter disdain for the book comes from many a source:

A) It's 900 pages. Mind you, I'll read 900 pages, even 1,500 pages, if it's amazing. But it has to be a crackerjack of a book. This was not.

B) Here's where this book and I really parted ways: Tom Builder's beloved wife, Agnes, dies in childbirth on the side of the road. Only hours later, Tom's rolling in the leaves with an attractive forest wench in a sex scene so ridiculous I could practically hear the "bow-chicka-wow-wow" music in the background. Poor Agnes' body isn't even cold yet and Tom's getting it on with a woman he had a 15 minute conversation with earlier in the book.

C) It's hard to believe this is medieval England, what with all the modern sensibilities and modern vernacular.

C) It could have been whittled down by about 500 pages if the scenes of people eating had been omitted.

E) The women, oh, the women. Witches or whores or victims of tag team rape.

Here's the basic rundown of the plot:

--Building a church, building a church, building a church . . .
--Oh, crap, a plot complication! We might not be able to build the church.
--Crafty Phillip overcomes the complication.
--Insert licentious sex scene.
--Building a church, building a church, building a church . . .
--Oh, crap, a plot complication! We might not be able to build the church.
--Crafty Phillip overcomes the complication.
--Now insert gratuitous sex scene.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For 900 pages.
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LibraryThing member anterastilis
Holy mother of GOD.

I am seriously BLOWN AWAY.

I feel like I did when I read The Mists of Avalon for the first time: then, it was the discovery of Adult Fiction and suddenly, the world was opened up before me. This time, I found what I have been looking for for years...and not even known exactly what I was looking for: truly mind-blowing historical fiction.

NO women with mysteriously 20th century mannerisms (biggest historical fiction pet peeve EVAR)!!! Characters that are NOT all kings and queens and knights! IN-DEPTH DESCRIPTIONS! Pages upon pages on Cathedral design! Characters that develop over the span of 50 years! Love stories that aren't sappy! Language that is believably medieval - not sounding like a bunch of folks at the Renaissance Festival! Religion without being heavy-handed! Viewing a topic or event from many points of view without favoring one over the other! Evil villains, brilliant craftsmen, strong women whose mannerisms are fitting with the times! And LOTS AND LOTS OF ARCHITECTURE!!!!

Seriously, folks, it's been a long time since I've read something so completely engrossing and satisfying. I spent several hours a day relishing this book. I dreamt about it. I hid it behind the Reference Desk and stole peeks at pages while at work. The prologue sucked me in and this book didn't let me go until the very end, which came too quickly.

We begin (well, after the sucking-in prologue) with Tom. He, his wife Agnes, and his children Alfred and Martha are walking from town to town, looking for work. Tom is a builder, and his greatest dream is to build a cathedral. He shares this dream (but doesn't know it yet) with Philip, a young prior of a monastery. Their paths cross a few times before they're able to get moving on it. The other players are Ellen Witch and her son Jack; Bishops, Fathers, Brothers and Friars; the deposed Earl's son and daughter; the new Earl and his miserable son William; and hundreds of townspeople, religious folk, royalty, and people of the woods.

These people make and break alliances more often than the folks in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Oh MAN it's good though. Beautifully written and expertly plotted. My only sadness is that this is not Ken Follett's usual writing fare. I'll have to do some research to find other historical novels like this one. Hell, I don't care if they're about the Tang Dynasty or Great Zimbabwe or the Aztecs or the Greeks or whatever. So long as they're written in this style, with this level of depth and planning...I would LOVE to give it a chance.

Oprah really surprised me with this one. I've read some of her other book club selections - lots of gentle reads about women's lives and other things that make my eyes roll back in my head as I fall bored to the floor. This one blew me away, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for an in-depth, vast historical novel.
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LibraryThing member Misfit
I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but this is truly one of the worst books I have ever read. I came so close to throwing the book across the room on several occasions, and ended up skipping through many pages just to get to the final and not too surprising finish.

The characters were flat and lifeless and seemed to have been transplanted from the 20th century into medieval England. The book was rife with unnecessary profanity that in no way enhanced the storyline and obscene gratuitous sex (I mean how many times did William have to rape someone to prove that he was a really really bad guy?). I noticed that at least one other reviewer commented that this book was required reading in his child's school, which if you are a parent I would recommend you take a good look at this book and perhaps take issue with your school district. As an adult I was shocked at the language and violence in this book, and find it totally inappropriate for a child and/or young adult.

I also noticed comments about the historical accuracy and research that must have been involved in writing this book. If that is so, it must only be in regards to the building of the cathedral and the civil war between Stephen and Maud. As for the rest, I must disagree, I have read many well written and researched books of medieval times (thank you Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick for such awesome reads), and I was infuriated on numerous discrepancies in this book. Examples and anyone may correct me if I'm mistaken as I am not a history major:

* Aliena is frequently described as having long, curling loose flowing hair. Women in those days wore their hair braided and covered, it being quite scandalous for any man other than her husband or lover to see it loose.

* After the attack on the castle, and the imprisonment of their father Aliena and Richard are allowed to live alone in the castle with only the steward? I doubt that the king would punish the children so for the sins of their fathers, and most likely would have been made wards of the king until they reached their majority. This was most desirable as the king could then skim the proceeds off the estates and funnel them to the crown's use. Sometimes a king would give ward ship to another party as a reward for service, etc.

* Young boys of the noble class were typically sent to another noble household to be raised and educated, first as squires and then trained in that household as a knight. What on earth was a teenaged Richard doing living at home?

* Much was made of William's warhorse. These were formidable beasts that were not easily handled by strangers. Yet Aliena and Richard were able to not only saddle the warhorse, but to get right on and ride it? I don't think so.

* The English nobility of that period were Norman French and did not speak the language of the peasant class. So how did Aliena manage to not only communicate with them, but could set up a successful business in that atmosphere?

I could go on with more examples if I had remembered to take notes, but there were many similar instances to this throughout the book.
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LibraryThing member Joycepa
12th century England was a particularly turbulent and dramatic time, concerned as it was with two major political events: the devastating civil war between King Stephen, who more or less usurped the throne from heir of Henry I, the Empress Maude (so called because her first husband was a Holy Roman Emperor); and the ascent and rule of Henry II, Maude’s son. Sharon Kay Penman has written an excellent historical novel about this event, When Christ and His Saints Slept. Ellis Peters’ medieval murder mystery series starring Brother Caedfel, a lay Benedictine brother, is also set at this time. It was also the time of cathedral building, and which saw innovations in architectural engineering that led to the magnificent, light-filled Gothic cathedrals. The increase in secular power inevitably clashed with the power of the Church, leading to one of the most dramatic and consequential murders of the Middle Ages, the assassination of Thomas Beckett, archbishop of Canterbury.

Ken Follett brings all these together in a fast-paced, absorbing narration that covers four decades. Holding the narration together and this giving it great continuity is the fictional figure of Phillip, prior of the Benedictine monastery at Kingsbridge in south England. Phillip, a genuinely devout man, is determined to build a magnificent cathedral for the greater glory of God. Throughout the 40 years of the narration, it is Phillip’s drive, Phillip’s determination and intelligence—and his compassionate, genuine concern for the people around him—that moves the cathedral building forward, despite numerous obstacles. Poor design and subsequent collapse, political intrigue both secular and within the church itself, famine, or near despair, nothing ever really stops Phillip from trying to realize his dream.

Throughout it all is the cathedral itself, which becomes a character in its own right.

Follett does a brilliant job of illuminating the history of the time through the building of this cathedral. While Phillip is the main protagonist, there are others. Bishop Walderon Bigod, a devout but ambitious clergyman; William Hamleigh, Earl of Shiring, who is the personification of the ruthless, arrogant nobility; Ellen, a strange woman who plays a major role in the development of the story; Aliena, the daughter of a dispossessed earl who becomes one of the most important wool merchants in England; Jack, a master builder who first sees the new cathedral designs in Europe and uses them to pursue his dream of building the most beautiful cathedral in the world; Richard, Aliena’s brother who is good for nothing else except fighting and killing. These provide the motive force behind the plot, and Follett does an outstanding job of blending them to create a believable story with convincing characters, yet one that illuminates the effects of a turbulent period in history on the ordinary people of England. I loved it both for the way Follett incorporated both the political and history of the Church at the time (although the two are hardly separable) with a story that is told from the common people’s point of view. You really get an excellent feel for what it was like to live at that time—the way the houses were built, the food, the effects of all-too-common war and famine on everyday life, commerce, monastic life and its influence (usually for the better) on the surrounding villages, and the major innovations of the day, such as horse plowing! Follett incorporates at all levels strong women, illustrating the fact that though a minority, women were craftsmen and merchants, who worked in the same trades as men at that time.

One intriguing sidelight is the way in which last names were slowly established among ordinary people: Tom Builder, Randolph Brewster, Maude Silver, Jack Baker—all from the trades in which these people worked.

Follett also gives a fascinating up-close look at how the cathedrals were built, seen through the eyes of Tom Builder and his stepson, Jack Jackson: stone cutting and shaping, cathedral design so as to support the massive structures, and the innovations that permitted the building of the much lighter, more beautiful gothic cathedrals.

My edition of the book carries an Introduction by Ken Follett that is fascinating in itself. In it, he describes how he first became intrigued by the great cathedrals, and then later, after becoming famous for writing World War II thrillers, in the main, he decided to write something completely different—The Pillars of the Earth. Do try to get an edition that has this Introduction, as it is very well worth reading.

For those lovers of historical fiction, this is a book that is not to be missed. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Ethany
To the person who found my copy of Pillars of the Earth at Starbucks after I intentionally abandoned it there: If you started reading it, I am sorry. I did not mean to inflict this book on you, I just couldn't take it anymore.
LibraryThing member markatread
The American Heritage Dictionary defines Melodrama as:

Melodrama - A dramatic presentation characterized by heavy use of suspense, sensational episodes, romantic sentiment, and a conventionally happy ending.

That is a pretty good description of Pillars Of The Earth. And in some ways there is nothing wrong with good melodrama. As The World Turns has mined that vein for over 50 years. But even As The World Turns has run out of steam. And when you read The Pillars of the Earth you realize that it takes a lot of "suspense, sensational episodes, romantic sentiment, and happy endings" to fill up 973 pages. The preposterous nature of some of the "sensational episodes" is difficult to accept at times but not until page 624 (first edition) was I unable to continue and had to just put the book down for over a month (while I read two other books).

There is a man who gets hung in the first 5 pages of the book. On page 624 we learn that he was being kept in a dungeon before the hanging. His wife/girlfriend miraculously found a way for him to escape from the dungeon. He doesn't escape because he didn't know the way home or speak English. His wife/girlfriend does speak English. The hanging was known about for several days, yet he doesn't escape. Twenty years later - on page 624 - his son is placed in the same dungeon cell. His mother swims in and tells him about his father and shows him the way to escape. Like any sensible person, within 2 minutes of finding out there is a way out of the dungeon, he swims to freedom. But not the father 20 years earlier, he stayed in the dungeon cell and impregnated his wife/girlfriend with their only child - who is now in the dungeon cell.

What passes for true love and supreme sacrifice occurs 2 pages later. I won't describe it but from page 624 to 639 you have the nadir of this book and a perfect definition of "sensational episode". In some ways it is a beauty to read. As the World Turns never did it better. The 15 pages defy logic and is both romantically sentimental while at the same time being soft-core pornograhic. Anything that can cause you to put the book down for over a month should be acknowldeged for what it is, a thing of beauty, even if it is the silliest crap you have ever read.

There is another part of the book worth mentioning. For all the melodramatic sentiments that drive this plot, the building of the cathedral is the opposite. It is clear from the very beginning that the author has heart-felt love for all the old cathedrals and the passion he feels for the building of his fictional cathedral in the book is in stark contrast to all the melodrama around it. Some of the passages regarding the cathedral are even boring to a degree, but the passion that the writer feels comes through even during these parts of the book. When you finish the book you will be glad the book is over, but you will also be glad the cathedral got built.
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LibraryThing member mellybean36
On the front cover of the copy of this book that I read, there is a quote from Cosmopolitan: "Enormous and brilliant...a great epic tale." I don't know why that didn't ring any warning bells in my head - first, that the publisher had the need to quote Cosmo on the cover (don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Cosmo fan, but that isn't the most respected source for book reviews), and second, that they felt it was necessary to use the word "enormous." Enormous meaning what? That the book is enormous? (No kidding.) That the story was enormous? (Enormously long? Enormously drawn out? Enormously ridiculous? I don't know.)

But nevertheless, I proceeded to read the first 100 pages, then the second 100, and then I eventually continued to plow through, unamused but determined to finish it. This novel is unnecessarily long, wordy, graphic, and self-indulgent. The scenes of violence and rape are so over the top, it made me want to vomit. The detail that Follett goes into about the cathedral is tedious and downright boring - I found myself skipping over these parts, which were numerous and lengthy. Additionally, Follett's writing is simplistic, dull, and choppy. While the story behind this novel wasn't horrible on its own, it's this poor writing that really made it terrible for me.

I know that many people love this book, and I'm really disappointed that I couldn't see what others find to be so wonderful about it. This is the second novel of Follett's that I've read, and from what I can tell, while he has a remarkable imagination and ability to create stories, he really needs work in the writing department.
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LibraryThing member lindawwilson
This book got such good reviews, that I broke down and bought it in an airport in late 2007 and tried hard to like it, but it was so bad; used 20th century speech and ideology for a medieval historical novel; plus it was boring; he actually described a character as "weird looking". Needless to say I did not buy the much advertised sequel that came out in 2008.… (more)
LibraryThing member b.fullerton
Don't bother. Not worth the time.
LibraryThing member exlibrismcp
This book was a wonderful read and I hated the times I had to spend away from it. Because of its depth of characterization and the scope of its historical timeline, it really drew me in to the novel as if I were an on-scene non-participating member of the plot. I was able to revel in the celebrations and mourn with the grievers in a true emotional sense. Despite its fictionality, it maintains enough historical accurateness to give the plot and the actions of the characters a true realistic impression. Even though there is a definitive line drawn in the sand between a moralistic good and evil, those clearly on the side of good still have to wrestle with their own demons and insecurities about their true intentions and purposes. The architectural descriptions and the religious inflections prove that Follet did his homework and researched fully for this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member sarahcpn
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone because a repeatative and un-original content.
LibraryThing member eljabo
I've put off reading this book for about 4 years. First of all, it's an Oprah book and Oprah books are usually the most depressing stories ever written. Secondly, it's about building a cathedral - how boring can you get? But, a good friend begged me to read it and since I trust his opinions, I lugged this 900-something page doorstop with me on my honeymoon. "Cause nothing says beach reading like a book about a dusty old cathedral.

Was I in for a shock! This book was actually the BEST beach read ever. It's not boring at all. In high school, I spent a good deal of time re-reading all the good parts in The Clan of the Cave Bear and my mom's Harlequins. I should have been reading this - it had good parts all through it. It was like a raunchy soap opera set in 1100s England.

The characters sprang to life on the pages - I rooted for strong Aliena, hated psychotic William, admired intelligent Jack and wanted to punch out stupid Alfred. In fact, I even rooted for the dusty cathedral.

The only thing I didn't like was the rampant use of the C-word. I realize it has a historic context, but I just think the word is gross. (Like moist - that's another gross word.)

I can't attest to the historical accuracy of this book. But, I can promise you a fascinating read that you won't be able to put down (even on your honeymoon - sorry honey!)
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
I was initially excited to read this book – I had heard tons of good things about it, had seen people everywhere reading it, and was intrigued by the author’s foreword about wanting to writing a serious historical fiction about the lives behind the people who helped build the beautiful Gothic cathedrals we see in Europe. The novel itself started out only so-so though, with far too much detail on mundane issues, unnecessary repetition, and the thing I hate the most: authors who try to psychologize their characters when they have no idea what they are talking about (i.e., no concept of psychology). That, however, was probably the highlight as I soon realized that this book is not really a vehicle for looking at cathedral building but a vehicle for gratuitous violence and sex. And to make matters worse, the author often likes to combine the two, giving the reader explicit details about one character’s multiple forays into raping women (charming, right? I actually wondered about the author while reading this book and hoped that I never came into contact with him). Follett’s background as a thriller writer is more than evident in the way he writes, particularly when he feels the need to conjure up some ridiculous conflict to keep the plot moving. However, this book garners two stars from me because the plot is compelling enough to keep you reading and a few of the characters are engaging enough that you actually care what happens to them. Nevertheless, these are not reasons enough to encourage me to read the sequel, especially as the last few chapters of this book dragged on and the end fell sour. Overall, I would not recommend this book unless you really like to read about gore and sex (I mean, *really* like) and don’t mind repetitive plot and writing (900 plus pages worth). I’d honestly rather just pick up the dry nonfiction book about medieval cathedral building.… (more)
LibraryThing member jonrosenshine
A terrible book with no subtlety, but I mostly enjoyed reading it. Sorry, I know people love this book, but I would have enjoyed it much more if the author showed some restraint and said less -- about 300 pages less. Not less story but less unnecessary exposition.
LibraryThing member mccin68
This story follows a monk and a poor, medieval family struggling to survive and still hold onto their dreams. we see the sacrifices, leaps of faith and deals they makes to achieve their goals and the obstacles and politics that stand in their way. Characters were complex and descriptions of the time period vivid. the middle sections of the book tended to drag but the political scheming added wonderful tension and kept me turning the pages to see who came out on top this time.… (more)
LibraryThing member SheilaDeeth
Many years ago, a fellow student loaned me a copy of Dune. It was a clever ploy on his part. The book was large, and I’d have to take it home to read, so we were committed to meeting again after the break. We ended up married, and I ended up addicted to Dune and all its sequels.

But now the years have taken their toll. I rarely venture into such long books these days. My husband bought “The Pillars of the Earth” for me because we’d been playing the board game, which we really enjoy. It has a very attractive map board, with town and market, priory, woods and quarry, and many other places, nicely drawn and brightly colored. Workers are colored wooden cubes. Craftsmen and characters are nicely painted cards, as are events. And master builders are bright pawns. A turn involves sending your workers out, hiring craftsmen, bribing characters, paying your master builders to work for you, and finally reacting to what happens following the event. It’s surprisingly easy to catch onto the rules, and surprisingly intricate to develop winning strategies.

But the book, “The Pillars of the Earth,” is really big.

I started by reading the introduction by the author, and was fascinated to learn that the book became popular first in Germany, which, of course, is where the board game was designed. I learned the author had spent long years researching cathedrals, so I was ready to trust his knowledge. What I wasn’t so sure of was how that knowledge would translate into a story, or how the story would relate to the game.

For the first few chapters I kept annoying family members by asking, “So what does Jack do for you? And Brother Remegius?” But soon I was hooked. It’s not that the writing is the best I’ve ever seen—oh why did I ever learn to read “critically?” It’s such a pain—but the story is deeply compelling. I would never have imagined I’d become so interested in the history of cathedral architecture, the places where new ideas came from, the evolution of light. But these things fascinated the characters, and the characters fascinated me.

At some point I decided to read the back of the book. Yes, I know; most people do that at the start, but you have to remember I thought I knew it all from playing the game. I learned that there was a mystery too, as well just the tale of a cathedral, and I was satisfied since that convinced me the questions I was developing would eventually be answered. They were, with a really very pleasing resolution.

I’m looking forward to playing the game again now, with a little more knowledge of what’s going on and why. I shall probably bore everyone by retelling details from the book. But I provide the food, so they’ll put up with it. And I’ll recommend “The Pillars of the Earth” to anyone willing to try a reasonably long book. It’s a much faster read than it looks, and it’s deeply intriguing and satisfying.
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LibraryThing member Rynooo
The prose is painfully amateurish and crass to the point of being cringe-worthy, the cookie-cutter characters are flat as a pancake, the plot turns are predictable, the story is vacuous and repetitive, it is full of exposition, name-dropping and anachronisms and the entire book is gratuitously protracted. In other words: good old mass market pulp trash.

Fun in small doses but don't expect much intellectual stimulation.
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LibraryThing member legan
The only good thing about it is that I no longer feel any obligation to read any of Oprah's picks. I've paid my dues. The Pillars is a historical fiction - sort of Danielle Steel in male form with a little more historical research done - all plot - no characterization and flagrant use of writing techniques (Novel Writing 101). So I'm in search of good literature to get the bad taste out of my mouth. Brothers Karamazov, anyone???… (more)
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
I didn't read this for the descriptive genius (snicker) or the subtle eloquence (hee) of Follett. Nope. I read it because I'm interested in the historical period and the quotidian life of the High Middle Ages. And for that, it was decent.

It reads like a soap opera (though the flip side is that it's definitely not hard to get through), so don't expect delicate intricacies or elegant metaphors. You know. It's for readin'. For enjoyment.

Oh, and it's trashy. Sometimes I found this gleeful, other times just trying. Sex, gore and cliffhangers. Follett's day job as a thriller writer is starkly apparent.

And don't expect any stunning plot twists, really. If you look at the state of things about a quarter of the way through the book, you'll most likely guess the general way everything comes out.

I'm leaving something out, though: this book is fun to read. It's a good beach or travel grab, and, even though it's 973 pages long, it goes by quickly enough. And if you're as into Medieval European history as I am, you'll enjoy the well-researched elements of it.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
I'll get it off my chest: I was very annoyed with this book. I had heard so many good things about it, it had been highly recommended to me more than once by someone who's opinion I usually agreed with, I was interested in the topic... When I started reading I quickly became involved in the story and the characters, felt transported to the 12th century (not that I'm a specialist on that period) and wanted to know how that cathedral was ever going to get built.

But the writing! Second-rate at best. The stuff of the typical mass-market best-seller essentially, which I should have expected since that's what Ken Follett was known for to begin with. I don't expect every book I read to be a literary masterpiece; I'm able to enjoy a bit of chic lit or a good thriller, and while I love the historical fiction genre and have no doubt many writers work hard to do intensive research and get the details right as well as spin a good story, it's often the case that the poor quality of the writing ruins the experience for me. Sometimes I still give the books a decent rating because while I've been disappointed with the prose, I've enjoyed the overall experience. In this case I couldn't separate the two because there were moments when I was shocked by how badly written certain passages were. And did I say it was much too long?

So there we have it. I've read, I've commented, and I won't likely read the sequel anytime soon.
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LibraryThing member LadyN
Spanning several decades, this twelfth century epic is multi-faceted. At once painting a picture of England in turmoil as well as developing carefully interwoven domestic plots, Follett takes his reader on a journey of love, revenge, death, conflict and the full spectrum of human emotion as experienced by everyone from king to pauper.

If I was to criticise it would be that at some moments the cycle of progress to threat of defeat to overcoming hurdle is ever so slighlty overplayed - perhaps one to many.

Other than that there is very little not to enjoy. It is also one of those books that makes you want to research outside of your reading. I found myself looking up various types of church architecture, discovering more about the monarchy and it's relationship with the church, and wanting to see pictures of the places where the story takes place.

I would not hesitate in recommending this book, and look forward to reading the sequel "World Without End".
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
The book is set against the turbulent times of a protracted civil war in England (before Henry II takes power.) Follett seems to have a grasp of the historical details from the organization of a monastic priory to the techniques used in building cathedrals. I liked his "good" characters, they were (for the most part) 3-dimensional and appropriately complex. The bad guys were irredeemably evil and therefore uninteresting. Follett tried to give us some insight into why they were so bad, but ultimately it felt like cheap psycho analysis (it was the mother's fault.)

However, this book did not have to be almost a thousand pages. Each major section was a repeat of the plot of the previous one: the same evil bad guys making the same good guys miserable, the good guys bouncing back and forcing the bad guys to hit them again. He did keep me hooked with a mystery introduced in the prologue and spun out over the course of 40+ years. I ultimately enjoyed the book, but felt it would have been much better, about two thirds the length.
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LibraryThing member surreality
Plot: The main story never slows down or moves away from its focal point once it is set up. Subplots add the necessary diversions and scenery and serve to flesh out the characters. A bit of tapering off towards the end, but not so much that it would be irritating.

Characters: Follett pays a lot of attention to his characterization, even when it comes to minor characters who vanish again after a page or two. The drawing is consistent, and he manages not to stereotype the female characters completely.

Style: Despite size, the book is a rather easy and fluid read. There is a surprising lack of theology and architectural techniques - as much as necessary, but not more so the reader is not inundated with background information that can quickly become overwhelming. The historical setting matches, with the real history serving as a background to a fictional cast of characters set around a fictional cathedral.

Plus: The characters. Some of the subplots would be enough to have books on their own. Attention to detail.

Minus: Clear division between the good and bad side, very little middle ground.

Summary: As far as historical novels go, a must-read.
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LibraryThing member echoesofstars
Holy looooooooong epic novel, Batman.

Don’t get me wrong: I like epic novels just as much as the next gal. But a good epic novel is so good that you don’t notice its length, and you don’t check the number of pages you still have to read until you’re finally finished. That was not the case for The Pillars of the Earth. This novel FELT long. I think the author could have said what he was going to say in less than half the length. About halfway through the book the characters pretty much stopped being dynamic and became stagnant, and the only thing that carried the book along was a repetitive plot line of attack and resolution. The secret of why Jack’s father was killed isn’t really a secret; any half-awake reader has already figured it out long before it is revealed, and the only character who comes to a surprising end is Regimus. Not worth the three hundred or so extra pages, if you ask me.

In addition, it’s written in a popular fiction style, which is fine for Bridget Jones’ Diary, but not fit for a piece of historical fiction set in the middle ages. I find it hard to believe that people back then had the same dialects, colloquialisms, and slang words that we do today.

There are some gripping moments and even glimpses of brilliance, however. The beginning especially draws the reader in, which is good since a less-invested reader probably wouldn’t make it the rest of the way through the 973 pages. The characters’ preliminary reactions to the evils running rampant in their lives are heartbreakingly real. You find yourself rooting for them even when they make poor choices.

The descriptions of sex and violence are very graphic in this novel, and I think that the author overindulged himself in these scenes more than what was necessary to convey his point. I can understand detailing the rape of Aliena because it influenced all of her future actions, but detailing the rape of the miller’s wife and the rape of the prostitute was not necessary for the plot or for future character development.

In summary, this book could have been excellent if Follett trimmed the fat from it and knew when to stop writing. As it is, the length of the book and the repetitiveness of the plotline tarnishes and obscures any moments of inspired writing that Follett has achieved.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Ken Follett has written an epic story set in medieval England from 1123-1174. It is rich in the details of minor knights and earls, the struggle of various bishops, deacons, and monks within the catholic church for supremacy over assets, the civil war between Stephen and Maude, the burgeoning art and science of building design and construction, and the evolution of the town as a social unit. The central characters are Phillip, the Prior of Kingsbridge, who wants to honor his God by building a cathedral but who also wants to care for the people of the area, Tom the master builder who wants to support his family and build the cathedral, Albert and Jack , Tom’s son and step-son, William Hamleigh, the sometimes Earl of Shiring (one of the villains of the piece who waffles back and forth between supporting Stephen and Maude), Bishop Waleran (another villain who wants the cathedral built in Shiring so he can control William, get one up on Prior Phillip and eventually become Archbishop of Canterbury--if he can ever figure out which claimant to the throne to back ), Aliena (displaced daughter of the previous Earl of Shiring and eventual wife of Jack), her brother Richard, Ellen-Tom’s ‘woman’ and Jack's mother, and a cast of thousands suitable for a Charlton Heston movie.

We are treated to a panoply of scenes of medieval treachery, warfare, and everyday life. We become intimately acquainted with the main characters as they try their darndest to get from morning to night without dying of hunger, fire, or war. We see the influence the church has from the death of King Henry to the time of Thomas à Becket. We see how those glorious cathedral churches were painstakingly built by hand without modern machines, and how the design evolved from the Norman to the Gothic. We root for the good guys, suffer heart-stopping, breath-taking (literally) horror watching the bad guys, and when we finish--after 970 pages of small print--we are looking for more.

The book opens with a scene that sets a mystery to be solved..the answers don’t come until the end, and the suspense is well played out. Throughout the story, Follett’s character development is deep, believable, and touching. We get to know each of the characters and his or her motivations intimately.

I am definitely looking forward to tackling its long awaited sequel World Without End.
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