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The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

Updated on July 23, 2014
Author Ken Follett
Author Ken Follett

Who is the author?

Ken Follett was born in the Welsh city of Cardiff in 1949. His education through state schools led him to graduate from University College London with an Honours degree in Philosophy.

His working life began with a job as a reporter for the local South Wales Echo; later he was to write for the London Evening news. It was whilst he held this post that he wrote and had published his first novel; alas, not a best seller.

It was some time later, whilst working for the publisher Everest Books, that he had his first best seller (he had continued to write in his spare time); that first hit - Eye of The Needle - has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. It was made into a successful film starring Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland.

Four more bestselling thrillers came from his pen: Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man from St Petersburg, and Lie Down with Lions. Mini-series followed as well.

His wife is a Member of Parliament; they live in Stevenage just outside London. He is a keen fan of Shakespeare, loves music and plays bass guitar in a band called 'Damn Right I Got the Blues'. Active in many organisations, he is well known in the literary world, but his local community is close to his heart and amongst other roles he is Chair of the Governors of Roebuck Primary School.

The Pillars of the Earth

What’s the story?

Pillars of the Earth roughly spans the time from the sinking of the White Ship in 1120 to the death of Thomas Beckett in 1170.

The sinking of the ‘White Ship’ saw the death of the only son of King Henry I, legitimate heir to the throne of England. His death brought a period of Civil War to the country - known as the Anarchy; it was a bloody time.

The brutal intrigue of medieval England - wars, jealousies, families, love and hate – it’s all here. Centered around the building of a new Cathedral in the mid 12th century, Pillars of The Earth takes us into the lives of royalty, nobility, merchants and artisans, monastic life and paupers.

If you are interested in the history of the period, particularly the building of a cathedral, this book will entice you into its pages; rolling along on the historical fiction, woven into the facts of the day.

As the glorious cathedrals of the time still show us, the engineering skills of the men who built them were amazing; they are breathtaking monuments to their labours.

My experience of the book

This was another gripping read for the commuting journeys! Just over 900 pages is quite a challenge, but when the quality of the writing draws you into the very lives of the characters, they can fly by.

From experiencing the vertigo of the medieval scaffolding as the great cathedral rises, to the sights sounds and smells of a market town growing on the back of the wool trade.

It takes a look at the simple faith of the time, the political allegiances amidst the civil war; pilgrimage and working life.

The descriptive way in which Follett tells his story really ‘wraps you up’. His attention to detail helps the reader to immerse themselves in the characters and their lives; you can almost smell it and hear it.

I love Gothic Architecture – this story took me through the building of a cathedral, the engineering of flying buttresses – an incredible innovation and engineering feat which enabled the walls to soar to new heights and give us the great galleried cathedrals from this period.

This was an unexpected bonus amidst the other plot lines and intrigues woven by Follett through Pillars of the earth.

Thoroughly recommended!

What is Gothic Architecture?

Beginning in the early 12th the Gothic period evolved on the back of new features in architecture. Its characteristic features include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress.

The major development of the flying buttress, led to much grander designs where the walls of the cathedral could soar as high as the imagination of the builder.

Wikipedia describes this area far better than I – being no expert in architecture. The link is below.


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    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Hi, dragonbear! I just noticed the TV series Pillars of the Earth on Netflix and am excited to check it out. I read it, as I said earlier, and it would be a lot of fun to see how they portray it. I don't care if it stinks - I love a costume drama!

    • VinceV profile image

      VinceV 7 years ago

      Being the history buff I am I thought I would try the Pillars of the Earth. I read The Eye of the Needle last year and couldn't put it down. Pillars, while thick as you state, was excellent and worth the read. Unfortunately many people find history to be boring. Yet Follett was able to not only teach us about Medieval Architecture, but the daily grind of Medieval life as well. Definitely a good read. Great hub!

    • dragonbear profile image

      dragonbear 7 years ago from Essex UK

      Hey Randy, thanks for the comment. The series has just come to it's end - first run - here in the UK, I think it was made for the american market, more costume than drama... overall it's not a bad series, but the book is indeed better in my view.

    • Randy Kadish profile image

      Randy Kadish 7 years ago

      Maybe I shouldn't comment, but I heard Ken Follett say he thought the tv series of his book was excellent.

      I must tell you, though I have a strong interest medieval cathedrals, I didn't like the series. I thought the charcters were one-dimensional and not at all interesting.

      Is that the way they are in the book?


    • notestoforget profile image

      notestoforget 7 years ago

      Ken Follett's new book Fall of Giant is bad. He should go back on writing books like Pillars of the earth that is a great book and stop trying to win the Nobel prize.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Dragon, I am so looking forward to reading World Without End. Any other book of that length, I'd pass up. But having read Pillars of the Earth years ago, I'm glad for the 1111 pages. Ken Follet is a fabulous writer and it's been too long since I've read any of his work. Glad to know that he is still around.

    • profile image

      TBENE66 7 years ago

      I too enjoyed this book.Also have World Without End on my bookshelf. Thanks for the bio on Ken Follett. Can you imagine the research that goes into a book of this magnitude? Some don't like description in a book,but I love it. How could you picture what the author wants you to see without description?

    • dragonbear profile image

      dragonbear 7 years ago from Essex UK

      Immartin - I think we do indeed share reading tastes. I am a great lover of historical fiction. I've recently bought the sequel to Pillars of The Earth - World Without End; it ends itself on page 1111!!

      It won't be a chore though I'm sure.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      You and I share much in reading tastes, I suspect. I read this book years ago and much of it stayed with me -- a fabulous read, not only entertaining but an education. Ken Follet is an excellent writer, holding that best of all skills, the ability to draw in the reader and hold him/her captive.