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4.4 out of 5 stars1,138
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on 11 September 2011
I started reading this as a favour to the Old man. It's his favourite book of all time and although it's taken a while, he finally wore me down. I think I was ill at the time and my resolve was weakened. `Bloody hell, go on then. It'd better be good'

I've read a few Follett books in the past, `The Eye of the Needle' and the `The Key to Rebecca' and thoroughly enjoyed them. But I was a bit younger then and easily seduced by spies, motorbike chases and assassins having threesomes. (Key to Rebecca that last one, In case you're interested)

The Pillars of the Earth is a different beast, a sprawling historical epic, fastidious attention to detail and a time span that takes in a generation. We follow the building of a Cathedral from the kernel of an idea to its completion (not a spoiler surely) Follett must have been aware he needed to perform a delicate balancing act between his love of the subject matter and delivering an entertaining read and I'm pleased to report that he doesn't get too bogged down in the technical details while still giving the Cathedral geeks enough to chew on.

When reviewing books like `Pillars of the Earth', more national institution that novel, I don't think it's really enough to say `it's good because'. We know it must be alright, being one of the most successful books of all time should be the first clue to that. What I'd want to know if I was reading a review is `is it for me'. In this aspect the book, while daunting in length and obscure in subject matter, is remarkably inclusive. I think this is largely down to the style of the writing. I doubt Follett is capable of changing gears too drastically and this has more in common with his thrillers than any stuffy historical epic. There's sex and death and pantomime villains. Ambition, lust and greed. Some characters feel very one dimensional but this can add to the fun, Follett serving up a roster of bad guys that you love to hate and good guys who you can't help rooting for. The story cracks along at a pace as well, fresh intrigue or a big set piece always round the corner. Conversely it's this soapy, thriller style which stops the book short of true greatness. The scope and scale together with the excellent pacing and exacting historical detail make this a formidable achievement but Follett never attempts to reach past this. He isn't looking to reveal great human truths or aiming to provide a commentary on our times with an examination of the past. I wouldn't mind betting that for 90% of readers out there, this will be just the ticket.
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on 31 July 2006
I dont care what the rest of you think, but I loved this book. I am a hardcore fantasy reader and was really loath to start this 1076 page monster. But a 2 week holiday with the kids loomed ever near, and I decided that this was the perfect thing to while away those long evenings.

We went camping in Southern France, it was hot, the van was cramped and we had no food as we were miles from a shop. Every time I felt sorry for myself I started reading about 12th century life and thanked my lucky stars, looked around and felt gratefull that raping and pillaging were no longer a problem and my only real worry was getting 5 kids ready for bed in less than 2 hours!

If you love medieval history, romance, factual events and treachery all woven together with fantastic characterisation, great descriptions and dialogue then this is the book for you. It depicts the life and times of the dark ages in a very real way, nothing is romanticised. The rawness of the descriptions was a refreshing change and I feel I could build a cathedral from scratch thanks to Follets excellent descriptions. (which are not boring but facinating)

It describes the lives of the aristocracy, peasants, royalty and follows the individual lives of about 5 various people including a monk Father Philip (for 63 years of his life_)and about some other very different characters who's lives and destiny's are all irrivocabley interwoven.

The opening paragraph describes a hanging in the most brutal way, and the descriptions of the behaviour and attitude of the observers just had me gripped from the begining.

I was so impressed that the minute I got home I was on the net trying to verify some of the facts therin. And sure enough it was all there. Follett has taken key moments in medieval british history and woven around it 3 dimensional characters which just bring it all to life.

I'm now off to buy some more from this time period!
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on 7 April 1999
From the outset, Pillars of the Earth gripped me. My imagination was captured by the day to day lives of some of the most real characters I have met between the pages of a novel. Each character evokes a response: compassion, respect, revulsion or even lust. The story spans many years, yet gives remarkable detail concerning the changing politics, lifestyle and even architectural and building practices of the day. I was given the book by a friend several years ago, and have given copies as gifts several times. My own copy is so battered from being read, reread, lent and returned that I'm now needing a replacement.
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on 15 February 2005
I found a copy of the pillars of the earth whilst scanning the shelves of my local bookshop. I hadn't come across Ken Follett before then, but as an avid reader of historical fiction, it seemed a safe bet. WOW! From the very first page I couldnt put it down. I hardly ate or slept for the duration. I felt I knew the characters personally and laughed and cried with them throughout the years we were together. I feld such grief when someone died, I sobbed openly. I lived in the middle ages and could hardly bear to drag myself back into the 20th century when I put the book down. I cried buckets when I finished the book and wanted to just open the front page and start again. I frequently recommend this book and all my family in australia were sent copies, such was my passion. I read the book quite a few years ago now but nothing I have read since, has grabbed me in quite the same way. It is still my all time favourite historical novel, I just cant rate it highly enough.
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on 20 June 2011
I have never read any of Ken Follett's work before but was intrigued by The Pillars of the Earth at is purportedly based on Salisbury Cathedral .It is certainly about cathedral building in 12th century England. The story follows Prior Philip, a monk with ambition to build a great cathedral, allied with architect Tom. It is an epic novel (900 + pages )and took me a considerable time to read. The author's love of the project shine through and he draws a very realistic picture of the period, with strong characters and plot full of the timeless struggle of good versus evil. If you like Epic Classics, this is the book for you.

Anon
The Spire Chronicle
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on 11 August 2007
Ken Follett is not a writer I normally read but I do like historical fiction so when I was given this old, very battered paperback I was slightly intrigued. I was told it was good but the blurb said "concerning the building of a cathedral..." Not my cup of tea I thought as I hate religion, but boy am I glad I decided to give it a go!
The characters are so realistic you really feel for them (or hate them) according to their virtues (or lack of). The 12th century setting is vividly recreated and the true tale follows love and revenge in many forms.
There are many surprising twists and turns with even main characters being written out part way through as this is what you might call true to life.
Set in a real 12th century with the historicl background of the wars between Maud and Stephen battling it out for the throne of England, there is something here for everyone. Yes theres the religious setting, but as someone who believes religion is the cause of more upset than it solves I can honestly say it does not get in the way; the history of this country is rife with religious fervour and the church at the time was somewhat corrupt and struggling for power with the other authorities and this picture is truly painted here.
Not convinced? Read it and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. Iwas hooked from the second page and now I've finished it I feel like I've lost some good friends, such is the power of the writing. I can't wait for the follow up due out in acouple of months which I believe follows the decendants of some of the characters from ths book at the time of the plague.
If I could give more stars I would... one to return to I think.
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on 9 July 2006
In line with other reviewers I agree that this novel is without doubt one of the finest novels that I have read. It is a must read... but I must give a warning! Make sure that when you pick this book up to read, you cancel all appointments and commitments for a couple of days. Lock the doors, take the phone off the hook, turn off the radio, pour yourself a glass of wine and immerse yourself into a story that has just about everything you could want from a novel. The book becomes so completely engaging that time almost becomes irrelevant. You have been warned!!
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on 22 April 2003
This is one of the best historical novels I've read. It's impossible to put down: you'll want to read just another page, just another chapter... (I even sneaked at it at work).
I had never read anything by Ken Follett, having the idea that he wrote mostly what I think of as "beach and pool best-sellers" but a friend recommended "Pillars" and I'm really glad he did! I'm even prepared to reconsider and read something else by Follett but I have a feeling this is probably his best work.
I was so sad to let go of the characters that when I finished the book I had to look for more info on XII century England, cathedrals and Thomas Becket: all subjects that had never interested me before!
Just buy the book: it's one of the best reads you can have!
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This is a fabulous book of over 1000 pages but don't be daunted by the size of it. Many authors would have made this into a trilogy costing the reader 3 x 6.99 but this single book is very good value for money. The story follows three or four main groups of people through around fifty years of their lives with never a dull moment. It's a great reminder of how our ancestors used to live and how Medieval Britain used to be a savage, tribal country with much lawlessness. The story smoothly flows between monasteries, castles and the building of a cathedral. Although monks play a large part I certainly wouldn't say it is a religious book, on the contrary, it shows deviousness and politics between the monasteries and the people who run them. This book is a great find and very much look forward to reading the next book set in Kingsbridge - World Without End.
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on 17 March 2011
I haven't read any of Follett's other books; they sound like the kind of thrillers my Dad loves to read, and I really didn't have high hopes. I was wrong: it's not great literature, but it IS an absolutely cracking page turner. Friends and family urged the book on me; and I soon found myself surgically attached to it, on the train, walking to the office, putting it away very reluctantly to do other pesky things like work. The best compliment I can pay it is to align it with "Ivanhoe": hugely enjoyable and well researched historical fiction. Follett is no Walter Scott (although of course in so many ways he doesn't need to be!) - but what he lacks in writing panache, he more than makes up for in excellent pace, sense of place and the keenness of his interest in humanising this period of history.

You can't help but feel that all those years hacking away with thriller bestsellers have given him an amazing feel for what readers want. Time and time again I had the impression that, writing this, the words were literally gushing from Follett's brain onto the page - that he could hardly write, or type, fast enough. There are periods which even transcend my slightly condescending suggestion he's not the greatest writer ever: (SPOILER) for example, the scene when the boy Jack is doing something he shouldn't in the old Kingsbridge church, and becomes caught in a trap of his own making. This scene is truly gripping and couldn't have been written better. Likewise the battle scenes are terrific, and in Prior Philip, Tom, Ellen, Jack and Aliena you have central characters worth following.

My only criticisms, really, are around the way it's written. I did occasionally tire of being told how to interpret characters' words and actions ("he realised he had made an enemy for life"... "he realised he was being used"...), when it was right there in front of me and not difficult to understand. He did seem to be ve-he-hery interested in sex! (But having said that, a bestselling thriller writer knows you can't sell a thousand page book without any sex in it, whatever the subject matter, so he's forgiven for that.)

He also doesn't get quite so successfully into the heads of his women as George R R Martin does in his equally epic and excellent "Game of Thrones" (which I strongly recommend to all readers who enjoyed this book); but that's a mean criticism to throw at him - I thoroughly love the world Follett has created. He has brought fantastically alive a period of history I find very difficult to visualise, and not only that, he has done it on an ambitious scale, largely successfully, and his passion for history really transmits. He does what I always longed for dry history lessons to do: he has put actual human people we can identify with, in situ in the middle ages, right in the thick of the action. everyone gets a look in, from the destitute beggar, making his or her way by hook or crook, to the warring, scheming, hypocritical nobility, everyone is caught up in the struggle of life. It's brilliantly engaging: it stands on its own, not quite as great literature, but simply as a great, great read.
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