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PIllars of the Earth

A historical novel by Ken Follett

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Machiavelli's Breast

  • Mar 30, 2008
  • by
Pros: This is an epic tale with every exploration of the human condition.

Cons: If one hates historical fiction, then it wouldn't be fun.

The Bottom Line: One of my top ten books ever, this epic tale of history and intrigue and romance moves me.

I'm reading this book again for about the sixth or seventh time. I don't know about you, but any book that bears the additional read for me does so for some profound reason.

This is certainly the case for Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

This has got to be one of my top ten ever. The Fountainhead (see my review of Jan 20 '00) is up there as well.

I teach Art History and that means that I'm a twisted anal-retentive individual who loves a minutia of detail. Because of the architectural information in this novel I offer up 5 points added to an average for a six weeks for reading it and talking to me about it. It's 983 pages and a student would have to want the extra credit BIG time to undertake it. I've had a couple of kids over the years who read it and told me that I didn't have to give them the extra credit. They loved the book so much.

I'm also one who was raised on H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love a good story.

Pillars of the Earth gives me both. The characters are very detailed and strongly written. They are poor/rich, starving/gluttons, peasant/nobility, sac religious/religious and just about every permutation of human station that one can imagine in between. The poor have substinence issues. The religious and nobles draw together for their own issues of advancement.

All through the thread of machinations is the life of Tom Mason, a builder. The central character, his one goal is to build a cathedral, because it is "beautiful." His life is complicated by several events. Early in the novel, he abandons his newborn child on the grave of his beloved wife who has died in the birthing effort. Feeling remorse he goes back to find that the child has been found and taken to a priory and left to the care of monks. In this period of a day he unites with a strange forest woman who in effect becomes his wife. Tom is tormented by the desire to reclaim his infant and his passion for the strange woman Ellen. Tom seeks a position as a builder near the priory where his infant son resides.

This is just a minor portion of this story that includes politically active maneuverings that involve the highest members of the church, the squabbles among local barony and the quest for the throne of England itself.

One does not build a cathedral in a day. Such undertakings were generally multigenerational. Ken Follett has chosen to set his story in the period of the architectural change from Romanesque to Gothic and with his narration describes the building formats of the churches and the engineering changes necessary for the transition of style. The author wraps up these solidly researched engineering and artistic issues with the lives and dilemmas of very compelling and human characters. We look at the lives of the characters over time and see how their life experiences alter their perspectives.

There is drama, there is love, there is lust for passion and for power. In this story, there is the love of God and description of how so many different kinds of people come to related to God. The plot has so many twists and turns it will leave you spinning and make you wonder how one author could see so many personal agendas and points of view.

This novel is well crafted. It's a great story that takes my breath away every time I read it. As I tell my students, one gets to the point where there are a hundred pages left and we think "OH NO, there's not much left. . . " We want the story to go on and on and on.


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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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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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