[Review] The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

“Epic” is a word that is often used when talking about literature, but one that is used to mean different things at different times. Epic is often used to talk about the time frame of a book. If it happens over generations and generations of characters, then it is Epic. Epic is also used to talk about the shear scope of a work. If it happens over a broad range of locations and characters, then it is Epic. And finally, Epic is used to describe the length of a book. If a book is almost too heavy to pick up, then it is Epic.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett falls into all these categories of the word Epic. It happens over generations of characters, large areas of the world (though it does focus on one particular area), and the size of the book could strain your arms while trying to hold it up in bed.

It is also one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in a very long time.

The Story

The story is set in the twelth century in the town of Kingsbridge in England. It follows many characters, but the main characters that hold the focus are Tom Builder (and later his son Jack), Prior Philip and William Hamleigh. A synopsis of the story would be almost impossible as it follows so many characters over such a long amount of time. Let’s leave it to say that Tom Builder is trying to find work as a mason, Prior Philip is doing his best to build a cathedral, and William Hamleigh is trying to ruin the lives of everyone else in the story.

An Education and a Great Read

This books has a bunch of things going for it, not the least of which is that you learn something as you read it. Much of the story revolves around what it was like to construct massive buildings of stone in the twelth century. While this may seem like it could be a dry, boring subject, Mr. Follett uses a deft hand to make it quite fascinating. He doesn’t dwell for too long on the technicalities unless those technicalities play a part in the story, which sometimes they do.

Another thing that I took away from this book was an appreciation for the modern justice system. While it seems at times that justice today may leave people out in the cold, reading this book shows you how tough it could be. When a noble can simply storm in, demand anything and walk away scot free (both in the eyes of the law and the religion of the time), your appreciation for a standard police force of any kind becomes that much more.

However, given that you do learn something, the greatest part of this story is the story itself. Mr. Follett does a fantastic job of weaving intricate story lines together in such a varied and fast paced book, that you hardly realize you’ve made it through more than 1000 pages by the end of the book. In fact, when it was all done, I had wished the book was longer.

The most interesting aspect of the story telling, to me, is how there was this constant setting up of “good” versus “evil” throughout the story. The Hamleighs were as often as not the evil family, while the Builders and Prior Philip were the good guys, but it was done is such a way that I really hated the Hamleighs and was rooting for the Builders and Prior Philip with everything I had. When William Hamleigh managed to get the upper hand a couple of times, I literally yelled at the book — I was that involved in it.

Another great thing about this book, is that is has something for everybody. There’s romance in it for the “chick lit” crowd, there’s battles and strength in it for the guy guys, and there’s technical stuff in it for the geeks in all of us.

As you can tell, I liked this book. So, if you’re looking for a great story, give this one a go. And, trust me, don’t let the size of the book scare you off. After the first few chapters, you’ll be wishing it was longer.


Grade: A
Who would like this book: Just about everybody, see above for why.
Who wouldn’t like this book: People who don’t like to read at all.

9 thoughts on “[Review] The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

  1. I am here via Semicolon. I have had this book on my TBR list for years, and fully expect to enjoy it. Having said that, it does seem to be a divisive book, because I do know a number of avid readers who really, really dislike this book!

  2. Lynne — I’ve read the sequel, and it’s good, too. (Review to come soon.)

    Framed — It is a big book, there’s no doubt about that. Have you read the one that’s been up on your shelf? If not, as you can tell, I highly recommend it.

    Marg — Welcome, and thanks for visiting. Semicolon is great, and the Saturday Review of Books is fantastic. You can tell I highly recommend this book, and it’s interesting that you say its divisive. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it.

  3. Pingback: The Symposium » Blog Archive » 4th Edition of the Book Review Carnival

  4. SuziQ – I’ve only read it once so far, but looking forward to the second read myself. Have you read the follow up (World Without End)?

  5. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: November 8, 2008 at Semicolon

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