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PIllars of the Earth

A historical novel by Ken Follett

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From Board Game to Book

  • Mar 21, 2009
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.

I started reading "The Pillars of the Earth" by looking at the introduction by the author, and I was fascinated to learn that the book became popular first in Germany, which, of course, is where the board game was designed. I also 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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More The Pillars of the Earth reviews
review by . August 30, 2010
This was one of the most annoying books I've read in several decades. The writing was clunky and cliche-ridden. The characters were (mostly) wooden and unbelievable and the dialogue was an embarrassment to anyone who can speak. (one high-ranking priest says to another: "this place is a dump")On top of that the plot was clearly cranked out by a computer program. Every goal of the good guys is met with a number of obstacles -two or three- but then after either self-doubt or weakening …
review by . August 13, 2010
I actually hated this book. I remember at one point becoming completely fed up and throwing the book across the room. I practically always finish the books that I start, but not this one.      Maybe the fact that I was so emotionally involved suggests that it is actually a good book, but one that I just couldn't stomach.      The plot, setting, and characters are all good. I especially like the vivid imagery and description of life in the middle ages in …
review by . July 09, 2010
Boy, I read Pillars of the Earth a long time ago, 1989, when it was first published in hardback. I like Follett's thriller-mysteries, but I recall reading the jacket and thinking that this isn't anything like Eye of the Needle or Lie Down With Lions.    I love historical fiction as long as they're tomes (think Edward Rutherfurd), and Pillars was, according to the jacket, about the life of the architect of a Gothic cathedral in England in the 12th century, when Gothic architecture …
review by . June 12, 2010
I used to work in a bookstore and occasionally I would see these books come through with Oprah's seal of approval, and generally I would just shelve them and forget about them.  I do not take reading cues from Oprah.  However, something about this weighty historical fiction caught my eye.  I don't know if it was the simple, yet aesthetic nature of the book cover, or the fact that it was summer time and I was looking for something other than either mystery/crime novels or …
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
This was very interesting to me, loved all the historical information on the process of building cathedrals.
Quick Tip by . June 24, 2010
I could not put this book down!
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
This is one of those books that literally has it all: love, lust, hate, death, birth, starvation, redemption, and cathedrals. While the building of cathedrals is a main theme, don't overlook the fully-realized characters, and the way the author weaves them all into a memorable story. Very long, but definitely worth a read.
Quick Tip by . June 05, 2010
You will not want this book to end
Quick Tip by . May 21, 2010
Great historical novel. A little fat and descriptive at times, but stick with it, because it's worth it.
review by . March 25, 2009
The quality of the character development in this book by Ken Follett made me think of Tolstoy.  The first CD is so-so and hard to get into, but by the middle of the 31-disc set I was leaving the engine on in my car after arriving at my destination because I wanted to hear what would happen next.      Why I liked it so much: Historical fiction that taught me about architecture and politics. Strong female characters you really care about. You get inside the …
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Sheila Deeth ()
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Sheila Deeth's first novel, Divide by Zero, has just been released in print and ebook formats. Find it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, etc. Her spiritual speculative novellas can be found at … more
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About this book


The Pillars of the Earth is a historical novel by Ken Follett published in 1989 about the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge, England.  It is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the time known as The Anarchy.  The book traces the development of Gothic Architecture out of the preceding Romanesque Architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time. Although Kingsbridge is the name of an actual English town, the Kingsbridge in the novel is actually a fictional location representative of a typical market town of the time.
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ISBN-10: 0451225244; 0688046592
ISBN-13: 978-0451207142
Author: Ken Follett
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: NAL Trade
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Oprahs Book Club 2000-2009


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