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Pillars of the Earth (1989)

by Ken Follett

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
23,605695107 (4.17)880
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.
  1. 102
    Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones (crgalvin, OTVTT2010)
    OTVTT2010: Molemmat mieleenpainuvia lukukokemuksia, laadukasta viihdettä.
  2. 81
    The Physician by Noah Gordon (ecureuil)
  3. 51
    The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer (Taphophile13)
  4. 20
    The Stones of the Abbey by Fernand Pouillon (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Novel about a 12thC medieval master builder in France
  5. 20
    The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner (nessreader)
    nessreader: CTHT is another medieval-set, multiple generation, religous institution novel, about a minor convent in England, sprawling over multiple generations and giving a sense of time passing, lightly touching on the lives of the nuns, but with the institution as the main character.… (more)
  6. 32
    Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd (mcenroeucsb, al.vick)
  7. 32
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (bugaboo4)
  8. 00
    Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims: (Book 1) by Toby Clements (Stepn)
    Stepn: As good, if not better.
  9. 00
    Das Haupt der Welt by Rebecca Gablé (MissBrangwen)
  10. 00
    World Without End by Ken Follett (delma28)
  11. 00
    When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman (Anonymous user)
  12. 11
    The Lost Angel by Javier Sierra (albavirtual)
  13. 11
    Hild: A Novel by Nicola Griffith (kiwiflowa)
  14. 01
    The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Similar period, albeit more battle oriented.
  15. 02
    The Jester by James Patterson (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: The Jester and The Pillars of Earth are intricately plotted, suspenseful tales set in the Middle Ages. These books focus on the treachery and drama of the period.
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» See also 880 mentions

English (605)  Spanish (26)  Catalan (15)  French (11)  Italian (8)  Danish (7)  Dutch (7)  German (7)  Hungarian (2)  Swedish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (690)
Showing 1-5 of 605 (next | show all)
The family epic is an adequate vehicle for interesting history. ( )
  KittyCunningham | Apr 26, 2021 |
This was my second time reading this book - the first was I assume closer to when it was released, although I don't remember exactly. I do remember that I really liked it, when I read it the first time; but this time, I wasn't as impressed with it. I'm sure it's just because my tastes have changed as I've gotten older - I like a bit of a challenge in what I read, and in places this book seems a bit dumbed-down. For instance, there were the odd recaps in the books which felt like something you'd find in the second or third book in a trilogy, not in the latter part of a book you'd clearly been reading already. And I got tired of the constant frustrations & setbacks being perpetrated over & over by the same antagonists. I did however like the fact that it was a epic story about fairly ordinary people, and that you could really get a feel for the day-to-day life of the time, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequel. ( )
  jlweiss | Apr 23, 2021 |
TW: Rape and gore and violence en masse.

I finally read the 1000 page book about the building of a cathedral! And I can see why there is no other way to describe it. While the driving force of the pot is the attempt to build the Kingsbridge cathedral, what makes this book truly epic is what happens because of it. This book is about grit and determination during a civil war. It is about the humble, everyday people and lords, both affected by the wars of kings and empresses. It's about political manipulation and determination. But most of all it is about all the years spent building the Kingsbridge cathedral, the lives and loves and horrors that went into it.

Like Tom and Jack's attempt to build a vast cathedral that will last until the Day of Judgement, Ken Follet as written a novel of epic proportions. This book was brilliant, complex and everything but boring. There were so many levels to it, from the building of the cathedral to monestarean (is that a word) politics to a romance so sweet and well-developed that it was impossible not to root for. There are an unparallel range and depth to them, and these subplots are brought to like the vast cast of characters. There are vile villains, cunning men of power, strong, independent women and more. The characters were fleshed out and strong and could stand independent of each other, but make the best soup when all poured together. Many of these characters earned my respect as I read, for they were cunning and unafraid, but not flawless.

Follet's writing was so compelling. It hooked me from the beginning, with its very necessary prologue (well I guess you could read the book without reading the prologue, but this is one of those rare books where the prologue becomes important to the plot later on). There was n filler content. Surprising, I know. This book is a literal brick and could be used a weapon if the paperback weren't so floppy (and thus easier to hold and read). Every sentence Follet wrote in the book carried some weight to it, advancing either the main plot or the sub-plots.

Some might argue that the sub-plots outshone the real plots, but I don't believe this. In fact, they drove the main plot forwards. There are many instances where the building of the cathedral would have halted and never been continued if there hadn't been an alternative made possible by a sub-plot. A character that stuck around, or a favour owed. Everything and everyone was important to the progression of the story. Take a minor character away and the whole thing will just fall short. It's like a card house: if you take away a supporting character, it tumbles, if you remove the top cards, it's not complete.

Sometimes I find that men aren't very good at writing from the female perspective, but Follet has that mastered too. His female lead, the Lady Aliena, is easily one of my favourite characters. William Hamleigh puts it marvellously on page 907 "He had ruined her father, raped her, taken her castle, burned her wool, and exiled her brother, but every time he thought he had crushed her she came back up again, rising from defeat to new heights of power and wealth." Aliena is a smart, logical character, unlike her childish brother. She is bound to oath the swore to her father and worked tirelessly to achieve it. She doesn't let her gender get in the way of what she is capable of. But Aliena is still flawed. She's a bit too headstrong and too selfless when it comes to the oath. She can be rash and cold, lashing out at those around her. But she acknowledges her mistakes as well, which in my mind is much more admirable than someone who never slips.

And the antagonists were just wow. Despicable and vile, yet full characters in their own rights. Some are just cunning, power-hungry folk with unyielding goals and a lot of power or plain bullies. But then there's William Hamleigh, the cause of many of Kingsbridge's problems. A man obsessed with honour and fame and has a lethal streak. He is in love with violence and war, loves to exert power over the helpless. William's perspectives were both utterly despicable and oddly interesting to read. He is filled with such hate and loathing that one could practically smell it in the air.

Prior Phillip is that last character to stand out to me amongst the masses. He was so determined and level-headed. His cunningness could almost, at some times, be taken as innocence, luck, and smarts. He so seamlessly manipulated the events to his favour that the characters did not know that they were being manipulated until it was too late. But the Prior is not the enemy here. He is the smart Prior of Kingsbridge, doing his absolute best to make something of the poor town while men like William Hamliegh oppose him at every turn. His quiet way of working events and thinking things through made him one of the most compelling characters out there, and his good nature and love of Kingsbridge and all its people made him loveable and I couldn't help but root for him.

And let's just have a moment of silence for one of the best romances ever. I can't believe the story is over. Another plus for it being so long. I got so immersed in it, in all of it. The lust, the passions, the desire. Both romantically and other. This book is one wild ride through 12th century England.

There are so many more characters and so many more aspects to this book. I can not possibly touch on them all, I'm afraid. You'll just have to take my word for it. The 1000 page book about the building of a cathedral is one of the best things you'll ever read. It appeals to the history buff, but fans of epic fantasy will find this medieval-set epic an absolute gem. Anyone who loves a good political story or a good romance will find something desirable in this brick of a novel. Just try it, you'll love it. If you couldn't tell from this review, I do. ( )
  afrozenbookparadise | Apr 22, 2021 |
The Pillars of the Earth is one of the best sage type stories I have read in a long time. It is actually the first book I have read by the author. I loved it. I finally understand what all the hype is about.

Don’t let the size of this novel deter you from trying it. It is so, so good. It now has the honor of ranking among my all-time favorites. The plot, characters and wonderful prose are to die for. If only every book I read could match this one. Looking forward to reading more by Follett. ( )
  purpledog | Apr 15, 2021 |
This started off as an engaging page turner. Then slowly the characters became predictable, the story line monotonous and the historical inaccuracies glaring and bothersome. The violence and sex scenes seemed glaringly gratuitous and redundant. How many times did the author need to tell us that the evil enemy was evil? I didn't want to finish the book, did because it was for a new book club and wished I could have those several days back. ( )
  ColourfulThreads | Feb 18, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 605 (next | show all)
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.''
added by Shortride | editSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, Harry Levins (pay site) (Sep 3, 1989)
 
A novel of majesty and power.
added by Shortride | editChicago Sun-Times, Algis Budrys (pay site) (Aug 20, 1989)
 

» Add other authors (32 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ken Follettprimary authorall editionscalculated
Conrad, Gabrielesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grant, Richard E.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kiel, AchimIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lee, JohnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lohmeyer, TillÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lundborg, GunillaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piggott-Smith, TimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Przygodda, ThomasIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Röhr-Rouendaal, PetraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenthal, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rost, Christelsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vázquez, RosalíaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Le nuit du 25 novembre 1120, le Vaisseau blanc appareilla à destination de l'Angleterre et sombra corps et biens au large de Barfleur: il n'y eut qu'un survivant... Le vaisseau représentait le dernier cri en matière de transport maritime et il était muni des plus récents perfectionnements connus de la construction navale d'alors... Si l'on a beaucoup parlé de ce naufrage, c'est en raison du grand nombre de personnalités qui se trouvaient à bord; outre le fils du roi, héritier présomptif du trône, il y avait deux bâtards de sang royal, plusieurs comtes et barons et presque toute la maison du roi... Cela eut pour conséquence historique de laisser Henry sans héritier... Cela provoqua la guerre de succession et la période d'anarchie qui suivit la mort d'Henry.
A. L. Poole
From Doomsday Book to Magna Carta
On the night of 25 November 1120 the White Ship set out for England and foundered off Barfleur with all hands save one. ... The vessel was the latest thing in marine transport, fitted with all the devices known to the shipbuilder of the time. ... The notoriety of this wreck is due to the very large number of distinguished persons on board; beside the king's son and heir, there were two royal bastards, several earls and barons, and most of the royal household ... its historical significance is that it left Henry without an obvious heir ... its ultimate result was the disputed succession and the period of anarchy which followed Henry's death.
-A. L. Poole,
From Doomsday Book to Magna Carta
Dedication
To Marie-Claire,
the apple of my eye
First words
Preface
The small boys came early to the hanging.
Chapter 1
In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.
Quotations
The baby cried, and the sound tugged at his heartstrings like a well-loved hymn. p.89
All birds and men are sure to die, But songs last forever.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Norwegian translation is split into two parts: Stormenes tid I
sverdet og korset AND Stormenes tid II katedralen
Please do not combine an abridged audio with the complete work. Thank you.
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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.

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From Publishers Weekly
Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. "Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale," judged PW.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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