Book Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I picked up the idea to read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett from the section on Goodreads titled “Big fat books worth the effort”. Since I’d read everything on the list before it, I thought I’d give it a swing. And I was blown away. The book is large – but no larger than many other big ones I’ve read such as War and Peace, and Les Miserables (that last one really was huge).

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I really loved this book. My policy is to read fantasy novels and then read something down to earth to get the taste out. Pillars of the Earth was different. It certainly wasn’t fantasy, but it was grand. Epic. Huge. You can feel the frustration of the characters that are so wonderfully fleshed out. The guys you’re rooting for have faults – sometimes very deep ones indeed. But the evil guys are so repugnant that your only wish is to see them go. It’s a petty kind of evil too and that makes it worse.

Ostensibly, the story is about building a cathedral. But the real theme of the book is the clash between civilization and barbarity. Whether a few men with swords have more power and more rights than anyone else regardless of the rights and wrongs of the matter. And even regardless of whether they’re simple priests with nothing to steal. I never really got a feel for how our society developed today where we have an expectation that the law is the law and everyone is subject to it. I see now that in those times, the law as not the law. The law was dependent on who was breaking it, and on who had the best connections. In effect, the law protected only the powerful.

We also see a few failings of the church. Prior Philip who’s an extremely courageous man of faith and also a good person at heart is often forced to make bad decisions because of the backward policies of the church. But he’s also a rigid man and his entire edifice of faith will come tumbling down were he to bend to the exigencies of the moment. He’s also deeply introspective and his sense of his own fallibility prevents him from becoming cocky and arrogant. In many ways, he is the ideal priest and godman.

Of course, there’s also the building of the cathedral. A monumental task which serves as the backdrop for all the other events taking place in the book. It’s frustrating and suffers setback after setback as you may imagine. But the end is deeply satisfying and Ken Follett ties everything up the way a good story should end. With happily ever after :)

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  1. thanks for sharing the synopsis of the book. looks interesting.


  2. It’s a lovely book. There is a series of eight parts too, which is pretty good. Unfortunately, the sequel to POTE is not as good. World Without End lacks a lot of the charm of POTE.


  3. One of the first big books I read many years ago. A lot of it was read during a heavy bout of fever, but it was riveting enough to continue reading it despite being unwell.

    It is a great representation of how life was in medivial times was.