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Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy #1)by Ken Follett
A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits. . . . An American law student rejected in love finds a/b>
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Ken Follett’s magnificent new historical epic begins as five interrelated families move through the momentous dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage.
A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits. . . . An American law student rejected in love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. . . . A housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy. . . . And two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution.
From the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty, Fall of Giants takes us into the inextricably entangled fates of five families—and into a century that we thought we knew, but that now will never seem the same again. . . .
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The New York Times
"Follett entwines fiction and factual events well. . . . This is a dark novel, motivated by an unsparing view of human nature and a clear-eyed scrutiny of an ideal peace. It is not the least of Follett's feats that the reader finishes this near thousand-page book intrigued and wanting more." —Chicago Sun-Times
"A good read. . . . It's a book that will suck you in, consume you for days or weeks . . . then let you out the other side both entertained and educated. That's quite the feat." —USA Today
"Fall of Giants is a book for you to savor, one in which you can lose yourself for hours on end. It is a big book that tells a big story, but it is one you will not want to end." —The Huffington Post
"Fascinating, in a big way." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A suspenseful epic." —The Seattle Times
"Follett conjures the winds of war." —The Washington Post
"Grand in scope, scale, and story." —The Associated Press
A massive, cat-squashing, multigenerational and multifamilial saga, the first volume of what Follett (World Without End, 2007, etc.) promises as a trilogy devoted to the awful 20th century.
The giants in question, metaphorically, are the great and noble families of old Europe, a generally useless lot with a few notable exceptions. One such worthy, Lord Fitzherbert (try not to think of Bridget Jones here), is a sun around which lesser planets circle, a decent fellow who had been an admiral, British ambassador to the tsar's court at St. Petersburg, and a government minister. His son, Earl Fitzherbert, is less notable, if fabulously wealthy: He "had done nothing to earn his huge income,"and the presence of the awful Liberals in Parliament, Winston Churchill among them, keeps him from coming into his own as the great foreign secretary he wishes he could be. Into the Fitzherbertian orbit fall the Williamses, Welsh colliers of sweet voice and radical disposition; if Follett's sprawling story has a center, it is in Billy, who is but 13 as the saga opens and has a great deal of growing up to do. In the outlying reaches of the galaxy is Grigori Peshkov, plotter of the Bolshevik victory and slayer of tsarist officers in a scene straight out of Doctor Zhivago, a confidant of Trotsky's, who figures in the later pages ("Trotsky took the bad news calmly. Lenin would have thrown a fit"). He's just one of history's greats to bow into Follett's pages: Churchill figures into the story, as does Woodrow Wilson. But so, too, does a full six-page dramatis personae, so that there's never a dull or unpeopled moment. Throughout it all, Follett keeps a dependable narrative chugging along; if the writing is never exalted, it is never less than workmanlike, though one wonders about anachronisms here and there. (Did Woodrow Wilson, college president and master diplomat, really say "Heck"?)
With an announced million-copy initial printing and a national author tour, this is sure to be one of the season's inevitable and unavoidable blockbusters—and not undeservedly.
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June 22, 1911
On the day King George V was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London, Billy Williams went down the pit in Aberowen, South Wales.
The twenty-second of June, 1911, was Billy's thirteenth birthday. He was woken by his father. Da's technique for waking people was more effective than it was kind. He patted Billy's cheek, in a regular rhythm, firmly and insistently. Billy was in a deep sleep, and for a second he tried to ignore it, but the patting went on relentlessly. Momentarily he felt angry; but then he remembered that he had to get up, he even wanted to get up, and he opened his eyes and sat upright with a jerk.
"Four o'clock," Da said, then he left the room, his boots banging on the wooden staircase as he went down.
Today Billy would begin his working life by becoming an apprentice collier, as most of the men in town had done at his age. He wished he felt more like a miner. But he was determined not to make a fool of himself. David Crampton had cried on his first day down the pit, and they still called him Dai Crybaby, even though he was twenty-five and the star of the town's rugby team.
It was the day after midsummer, and a bright early light came through the small window. Billy looked at his grandfather, lying beside him. Gramper's eyes were open. He was always awake, whenever Billy got up; he said old people did not sleep much.
Billy got out of bed. He was wearing only his underdrawers. In cold weather he wore his shirt to bed, but Britain was enjoying a hot summer, and the nights were mild. He pulled the pot from under the bed and took off the lid.
There was no change in the size of his penis, which he called his peter. It was still the childish stub it had always been. He had hoped it might have started to grow on the night before his birthday, or perhaps that he might see just one black hair sprouting somewhere near it, but he was disappointed. His best friend, Tommy Griffiths, who had been born on the same day, was different: he had a cracked voice and a dark fuzz on his upper lip, and his peter was like a man's. It was humiliating.
As Billy was using the pot, he looked out of the window. All he could see was the slag heap, a slate-gray mountain of tailings, waste from the coal mine, mostly shale and sandstone. This was how the world appeared on the second day of Creation, Billy thought, before God said: "Let the earth bring forth grass." A gentle breeze wafted fine black dust off the slag onto the rows of houses.
Inside the room there was even less to look at. This was the back bedroom, a narrow space just big enough for the single bed, a chest of drawers, and Gramper's old trunk. On the wall was an embroidered sampler that read:
BELIEVE ON THE
LORD JESUS CHRIST
AND THOU SHALT
There was no mirror.
One door led to the top of the stairs, the other to the front bedroom, which could be accessed only through this one. It was larger and had space for two beds. Da and Mam slept there, and Billy's sisters had too, years ago. The eldest, Ethel, had now left home, and the other three had died, one from measles, one from whooping cough, and one from diphtheria. There had been an older brother, too, who had shared Billy's bed before Gramper came. Wesley had been his name, and he had been killed underground by a runaway dram, one of the wheeled tubs that carried coal.
Billy pulled on his shirt. It was the one he had worn to school yesterday. Today was Thursday, and he changed his shirt only on Sunday. However, he did have a new pair of trousers, his first long ones, made of the thick water-repellent cotton called moleskin. They were the symbol of entry into the world of men, and he pulled them on proudly, enjoying the heavy masculine feel of the fabric. He put on a thick leather belt and the boots he had inherited from Wesley, then he went downstairs.
Most of the ground floor was taken up by the living room, fifteen feet square, with a table in the middle and a fireplace to one side, and a homemade rug on the stone floor. Da was sitting at the table reading an old copy of the Daily Mail, a pair of spectacles perched on the bridge of his long, sharp nose. Mam was making tea. She put down the steaming kettle, kissed Billy's forehead, and said: "How's my little man on his birthday?"
Billy did not reply. The "little" was wounding, because he was little, and the "man" was just as hurtful because he was not a man. He went into the scullery at the back of the house. He dipped a tin bowl into the water barrel, washed his face and hands, and poured the water away in the shallow stone sink. The scullery had a copper with a fire grate underneath, but it was used only on bath night, which was Saturday.
They had been promised running water soon, and some of the miners' houses already had it. It seemed a miracle to Billy that people could get a cup of cold clear water just by turning the tap, and not have to carry a bucket to the standpipe out in the street. But indoor water had not yet come to Wellington Row, where the Williamses lived.
He returned to the living room and sat at the table. Mam put a big cup of milky tea in front of him, already sugared. She cut two thick slices off a loaf of homemade bread and got a slab of dripping from the pantry under the stairs. Billy put his hands together, closed his eyes, and said: "Thank you Lord for this food amen." Then he drank some tea and spread dripping on his bread.
Da's pale blue eyes looked over the top of the paper. "Put salt on your bread," he said. "You'll sweat underground."
Billy's father was a miners' agent, employed by the South Wales Miners' Federation, which was the strongest trade union in Britain, as he said whenever he got the chance. He was known as Dai Union. A lot of men were called Dai, pronounced "die," short for David, or Dafydd in Welsh. Billy had learned in school that David was popular in Wales because it was the name of the country's patron saint, like Patrick in Ireland. All the Dais were distinguished one from another not by their surnames—almost everyone in town was Jones, Williams, Evans, or Morgan—but by a nickname. Real names were rarely used when there was a humorous alternative. Billy was William Williams, so they called him Billy Twice. Women were sometimes given their husband's nickname, so that Mam was Mrs. Dai Union.
Gramper came down while Billy was eating his second slice. Despite the warm weather he wore a jacket and waistcoat. When he had washed his hands he sat opposite Billy. "Don't look so nervous," he said. "I went down the pit when I was ten. And my father was carried to the pit on his father's back at the age of five, and worked from six in the morning until seven in the evening. He never saw daylight from October to March."
"I'm not nervous," Billy said. This was untrue. He was scared stiff.
However, Gramper was kindly, and he did not press the point. Billy liked Gramper. Mam treated Billy like a baby, and Da was stern and sarcastic, but Gramper was tolerant and talked to Billy as to an adult.
"Listen to this," said Da. He would never buy the Mail, a right-wing rag, but he sometimes brought home someone else's copy and read the paper aloud in a scornful voice, mocking the stupidity and dishonesty of the ruling class. "'Lady Diana Manners has been criticized for wearing the same dress to two different balls. The younger daughter of the Duke of Rutland won "best lady's costume" at the Savoy Ball for her off-the-shoulder boned bodice with full hooped skirt, receiving a prize of two hundred and fifty guineas.'" He lowered the paper and said: "That's at least five years' wages for you, Billy boy." He resumed: "'But she drew the frowns of the cognoscenti by wearing the same dress to Lord Winterton and F. E. Smith's party at Claridge's Hotel. One can have too much of a good thing, people said.'" He looked up from the paper. "You'd better change that frock, Mam," he said. "You don't want to draw the frowns of the cognoscenti."
Mam was not amused. She was wearing an old brown wool dress with patched elbows and stains under the armpits. "If I had two hundred and fifty guineas I'd look better than Lady Diana Muck," she said, not without bitterness.
"It's true," Gramper said. "Cara was always the pretty one—just like her mother." Mam's name was Cara. Gramper turned to Billy. "Your grandmother was Italian. Her name was Maria Ferrone." Billy knew this, but Gramper liked to retell familiar stories. "That's where your mother gets her glossy black hair and lovely dark eyes—and your sister. Your gran was the most beautiful girl in Cardiff—and I got her!" Suddenly he looked sad. "Those were the days," he said quietly.
Da frowned with disapproval—such talk suggested the lusts of the flesh—but Mam was cheered by her father's compliments, and she smiled as she put his breakfast in front of him. "Oh, aye," she said. "Me and my sisters were considered beauties. We'd show those dukes what a pretty girl is, if we had the money for silk and lace."
Billy was surprised. He had never thought of his mother as beautiful or otherwise, though when she dressed for the chapel social on Saturday evening she did look striking, especially in a hat. He supposed she might once have been a pretty girl, but it was hard to imagine.
"Mind you," said Gramper, "your gran's family were clever, too. My brother-in-law was a miner, but he got out of the industry and opened a café in Tenby. Now there's a life for you—sea breezes, and nothing to do all day but make coffee and count your money."
Da read another item. "'As part of the preparations for the coronation, Buckingham Palace has produced a book of instructions two hundred and twelve pages long.'" He looked over the paper. "Mention that down the pit today, Billy. The men will be relieved to know that nothing has been left to chance."
Billy was not very interested in royalty. What he liked was the adventure stories the Mail often printed about tough rugby-playing public-school men catching sneaky German spies. According to the paper, such spies infested every town in Britain, although there did not seem to be any in Aberowen, disappointingly.
Billy stood up. "Going down the street," he announced. He left the house by the front door. "Going down the street" was a family euphemism: it meant going to the toilets, which stood halfway down Wellington Row. A low brick hut with a corrugated iron roof was built over a deep hole in the earth. The hut was divided into two compartments, one for men and one for women. Each compartment had a double seat, so that people went to the toilet two by two. No one knew why the builders had chosen this arrangement, but everyone made the best of it. Men looked straight ahead and said nothing, but—as Billy could often hear—women chatted companionably. The smell was suffocating, even when you experienced it every day of your life. Billy always tried to breathe as little as possible while he was inside, and came out gasping for air. The hole was shoveled out periodically by a man called Dai Muck.
When Billy returned to the house he was delighted to see his sister Ethel sitting at the table. "Happy birthday, Billy!" she cried. "I had to come and give you a kiss before you go down the pit."
Ethel was eighteen, and Billy had no trouble seeing her as beautiful. Her mahogany-colored hair was irrepressibly curly, and her dark eyes twinkled with mischief. Perhaps Mam had looked like this once. Ethel wore the plain black dress and white cotton cap of a housemaid, an outfit that flattered her.
Billy worshipped Ethel. As well as pretty, she was funny and clever and brave, sometimes even standing up to Da. She told Billy things no one else would explain, such as the monthly episode women called the curse, and what was the crime of public indecency that had caused the Anglican vicar to leave town in such a hurry. She had been top of the class all the way through school, and her essay "My Town or Village" had taken first prize in a contest run by the South Wales Echo. She had won a copy of Cassell's Atlas of the World.
She kissed Billy's cheek. "I told Mrs. Jevons the housekeeper that we were running out of boot polish and I'd better get some more from the town." Ethel lived and worked at Tŷ Gwyn, the vast home of Earl Fitzherbert, a mile away up the mountain. She handed Billy something wrapped in a clean rag. "I stole a piece of cake for you."
"Oh, thanks, Eth!" said Billy. He loved cake.
Mam said: "Shall I put it in your snap?"
Mam got a tin box from the cupboard and put the cake inside. She cut two more slabs of bread, spread them with dripping, sprinkled salt, and put them in the tin. All the miners had a tin "snap." If they took food underground wrapped in a rag, the mice would eat it before the midmorning break. Mam said: "When you bring me home your wages, you can have a slice of boiled bacon in your snap."
Billy's earnings would not be much, at first, but all the same they would make a difference to the family. He wondered how much Mam would allow him for pocket money and whether he would ever be able to save enough for a bicycle, which he wanted more than anything else in the world.
Ethel sat at the table. Da said to her: "How are things at the big house?"
"Nice and quiet," she said. "The earl and princess are in London for the coronation." She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. "They'll be getting up soon—they need to be at the abbey early. She won't like it—she's not used to early hours—but she can't be late for the king." The earl's wife, Bea, was a Russian princess, and very grand. Da said: "They'll want to get seats near the front, so they can see the show."
"Oh, no, you can't sit anywhere you like," Ethel said. "They've had six thousand mahogany chairs made special, with the names of the guests on the back in gold writing."
Gramper said: "Well, there's a waste! What will they do with them after?"
"I don't know. Perhaps everyone will take them home as souvenirs."
Da said dryly: "Tell them to send a spare one to us. There's only five of us here, and already your mam's got to stand."
When Da was being facetious there might be real anger underneath. Ethel leaped to her feet. "Oh, sorry, Mam, I didn't think."
"Stay where you are, I'm too busy to sit down," said Mam.
The clock struck five. Da said: "Best get there early, Billy boy. Start as you mean to go on."
Billy got to his feet reluctantly and picked up his snap.
Ethel kissed him again, and Gramper shook his hand. Da gave him two six-inch nails, rusty and a bit bent. "Put those in your trousers pocket."
"What for?" said Billy.
"You'll see," Da said with a smile.
Mam handed Billy a quart bottle with a screw top, full of cold tea with milk and sugar. She said: "Now, Billy, remember that Jesus is always with you, even down the pit."
He could see a tear in her eye, and he turned away quickly, because it made him feel weepy too. He took his cap from the peg. "Bye, then," he said, as if he was only going to school; and he stepped out of the front door. The summer had been hot and sunny so far, but today was overcast, and it even looked as if it might rain. Tommy was leaning against the wall of the house, waiting. "Aye, aye, Billy," he said.
"Aye, aye, Tommy."
They walked down the street side by side.
Aberowen had once been a small market town, serving hill farmers round about, Billy had learned in school. From the top of Wellington Row you could see the old commercial center, with the open pens of the cattle market, the wool exchange building, and the Anglican church, all on one side of the Owen River, which was little more than a stream. Now a railway line cut through the town like a wound, terminating at the pithead. The miners' houses had spread up the slopes of the valley, hundreds of gray stone homes with roofs of darker-gray Welsh slate. They were built in long serpentine rows that followed the contours of the mountainsides, the rows crossed by shorter streets that plunged headlong to the valley bottom.
"Who do you think you'll be working with?" said Tommy.
Billy shrugged. New boys were assigned to one of the colliery manager's deputies. "No way to know."
"I hope they put me in the stables." Tommy liked horses. About fifty ponies lived in the mine. They pulled the drams that the colliers filled, drawing them along railway tracks. "What sort of work do you want to do?"
Billy hoped he would not be given a task too heavy for his childish physique, but he was not willing to admit that. "Greasing drams," he said.
"It seems easy."
They passed the school where yesterday they had been pupils. It was a Victorian building with pointed windows like a church. It had been built by the Fitzherbert family, as the headmaster never tired of reminding the pupils. The earl still appointed the teachers and decided the curriculum. On the walls were paintings of heroic military victories, and the greatness of Britain was a constant theme. In the Scripture lesson with which every day began, strict Anglican doctrines were taught, even though nearly all the children were from Nonconformist families. There was a school management committee, of which Da was a member, but it had no power except to advise. Da said the earl treated the school as his personal property.
In their final year Billy and Tommy had been taught the principles of mining, while the girls learned to sew and cook. Billy had been surprised to discover that the ground beneath him consisted of layers of different kinds of earth, like a stack of sandwiches. A coal seam—a phrase he had heard all his life without really understanding it—was one such layer. He had also been told that coal was made of dead leaves and other vegetable matter, accumulated over thousands of years and compressed by the weight of earth above it. Tommy, whose father was an atheist, said this proved the Bible was not true; but Billy's da said that was only one interpretation.
The school was empty at this hour, its playground deserted. Billy felt proud that he had left school behind, although part of him wished he could go back there instead of down the pit.
As they approached the pithead, the streets began to fill with miners, each with his tin snap and bottle of tea. They all dressed the same, in old suits that they would take off once they reached their workplace. Some mines were cold but Aberowen was a hot pit, and the men worked in underwear and boots, or in the coarse linen shorts they called bannickers. Everyone wore a padded cap, all the time, because tunnel roofs were low and it was easy to bang your head.
Over the houses Billy could see the winding gear, a tower topped by two great wheels rotating in opposite directions, drawing the cables that raised and lowered the cage. Similar pithead structures loomed over most towns in the South Wales valleys, the way church spires dominated farming villages.
Other buildings were scattered around the pithead as if dropped by accident: the lamp room, the colliery office, the smithy, the stores. Railway lines snaked between the buildings. On the waste ground were broken drams, old cracked timbers, feed sacks, and piles of rusty disused machinery, all covered with a layer of coal dust. Da always said there would be fewer accidents if miners kept things tidy.
Billy and Tommy went to the colliery office. In the front room was Arthur "Spotty" Llewellyn, a clerk not much older than they were. His white shirt had a dirty collar and cuffs. They were expected—their fathers had previously arranged for them to start work today. Spotty wrote their names in a ledger, then took them into the colliery manager's office. "Young Tommy Griffiths and young Billy Williams, Mr. Morgan," he said.
Maldwyn Morgan was a tall man in a black suit. There was no coal dust on his cuffs. His pink cheeks were free of stubble, which meant he must shave every day. His engineering diploma hung in a frame on the wall, and his bowler hat—the other badge of his status—was displayed on the coat stand by the door.
To Billy's surprise, he was not alone. Next to him stood an even more formidable figure: Perceval Jones, chairman of Celtic Minerals, the company that owned and operated the Aberowen coal mine and several others. A small, aggressive man, he was called Napoleon by the miners. He wore morning dress, a black tailcoat and striped gray trousers, and he had not taken off his tall black top hat.
Jones looked at the boys with distaste. "Griffiths," he said. "Your father's a revolutionary socialist."
"Yes, Mr. Jones," said Tommy.
"And an atheist."
"Yes, Mr. Jones."
He turned his gaze on Billy. "And your father's an official of the South Wales Miners' Federation."
"Yes, Mr. Jones."
"I don't like socialists. Atheists are doomed to eternal damnation. And trade unionists are the worst of the lot."
He glared at them, but he had not asked a question, so Billy said nothing.
"I don't want troublemakers," Jones went on. "In the Rhondda Valley they've been on strike for forty-three weeks because of people like your fathers stirring them up."
Billy knew that the strike in the Rhondda had not been caused by troublemakers, but by the owners of the Ely Pit at Penygraig, who had locked out their miners. But he kept his mouth shut.
"Are you troublemakers?" Jones pointed a bony finger at Billy, making Billy shake. "Did your father tell you to stand up for your rights when you're working for me?"
Billy tried to think, though it was difficult when Jones looked so threatening. Da had not said much this morning, but last night he had given some advice. "Please, sir, he told me: 'Don't cheek the bosses, that's my job.' "
Behind him, Spotty Llewellyn sniggered.
Perceval Jones was not amused. "Insolent savage," he said. "But if I turn you away, I'll have the whole of this valley on strike."
Billy had not thought of that. Was he so important? No—but the miners might strike for the principle that the children of their officials must not suffer. He had been at work less than five minutes, and already the union was protecting him.
"Get them out of here," said Jones.
Morgan nodded. "Take them outside, Llewellyn," he said to Spotty. "Rhys Price can look after them."
Billy groaned inwardly. Rhys Price was one of the more unpopular deputy managers. He had set his cap at Ethel, a year ago, and she had turned him down flat. She had done the same to half the single men in Aberowen, but Price had taken it hard.
Spotty jerked his head. "Out," he said, and he followed them. "Wait outside for Mr. Price."
Billy and Tommy left the building and leaned on the wall by the door. "I'd like to punch Napoleon's fat belly," said Tommy. "Talk about a capitalist bastard."
"Yeah," said Billy, though he had had no such thought.
Rhys Price showed up a minute later. Like all the deputies, he wore a low round-crowned hat called a billycock, more expensive than a miner's cap but cheaper than a bowler. In the pockets of his waistcoat he had a notebook and a pencil, and he carried a yardstick. Price had dark stubble on his cheeks and a gap in his front teeth. Billy knew him to be clever but sly.
"Good morning, Mr. Price," Billy said.
Price looked suspicious. "What business have you got saying good morning to me, Billy Twice?"
"Mr. Morgan said we are to go down the pit with you."
"Did he, now?" Price had a way of darting looks to the left and right, and sometimes behind, as if he expected trouble from an unknown quarter. "We'll see about that." He looked up at the winding wheel, as if seeking an explanation there. "I haven't got time to deal with boys." He went into the office.
"I hope he gets someone else to take us down," Billy said. "He hates my family because my sister wouldn't walk out with him."
"Your sister thinks she's too good for the men of Aberowen," said Tommy, obviously repeating something he had heard.
"She is too good for them," Billy said stoutly.
Price came out. "All right, this way," he said, and headed off at a rapid walk.
The boys followed him into the lamp room. The lampman handed Billy a shiny brass safety lamp, and he hooked it onto his belt as the men did.
He had learned about miners' lamps in school. Among the dangers of coal mining was methane, the inflammable gas that seeped out of coal seams. The men called it firedamp, and it was the cause of all underground explosions. Welsh pits were notoriously gassy. The lamp was ingeniously designed so that its flame would not ignite firedamp. In fact the flame would change its shape, becoming longer, thereby giving a warning—for firedamp had no smell.
If the lamp went out, the miner could not relight it himself. Carrying matches was forbidden underground, and the lamp was locked to discourage the breaking of the rule. An extinguished lamp had to be taken to a lighting station, usually at the pit bottom near the shaft. This might be a walk of a mile or more, but it was worth it to avoid the risk of an underground explosion.
In school the boys had been told that the safety lamp was one of the ways in which mine owners showed their care and concern for their employees—"as if," Da said, "there was no benefit to the bosses in preventing explosions and stoppage of work and damage to tunnels."
After picking up their lamps, the men stood in line for the cage. Cleverly placed alongside the queue was a notice board. Handwritten or crudely printed signs advertised cricket practise, a darts match, a lost penknife, a recital by the Aberowen Male Voice Choir, and a lecture on Karl Marx's theory of historical materialism at the Free Library. But deputies did not have to wait, and Price pushed his way to the front, with the boys tagging along.
Like most pits, Aberowen had two shafts, with fans placed to force air down one and up the other. The owners often gave the shafts whimsical names, and here they were Pyramus and Thisbe. This one, Pyramus, was the up shaft, and Billy could feel the draft of warm air coming from the pit.
Last year Billy and Tommy had decided they wanted to look down the shaft. On Easter Monday, when the men were not working, they had dodged the watchman and sneaked across the waste ground to the pithead, then climbed the guard fence. The shaft mouth was not completely enclosed by the cage housing, and they had lain on their bellies and looked over the rim. They had stared with dreadful fascination into that terrible hole, and Billy had felt his stomach turn. The blackness seemed infinite. He experienced a thrill that was half joy because he did not have to go down, half terror because one day he would. He had thrown a stone in, and they had listened as it bounced against the wooden cage-conductor and the brick lining of the shaft. It seemed a horrifically long time before they heard the faint, distant splash as it hit the pool of water at the bottom.
Now, a year later, he was about to follow the course of that stone. He told himself not to be a coward. He had to behave like a man, even if he did not feel like one. The worst thing of all would be to disgrace himself. He was more afraid of that than of dying.
He could see the sliding grille that closed off the shaft. Beyond it was empty space, for the cage was on its way up. On the far side of the shaft he could see the winding engine that turned the great wheels high above. Jets of steam escaped from the mechanism. The cables slapped their guides with a whiplash sound. There was an odor of hot oil.
With a clash of iron, the empty cage appeared behind the gate. The banksman, in charge of the cage at the top end, slid the gate back. Rhys Price stepped into the empty cage and the two boys followed. Thirteen miners got in behind them—the cage held sixteen in total. The banksman slammed the gate shut.
There was a pause. Billy felt vulnerable. The floor beneath his feet was solid, but he might without much difficulty have squeezed through the widely spaced bars of the sides. The cage was suspended from a steel rope, but even that was not completely safe: everyone knew that the winding cable at Tirpentwys had snapped one day in 1902, and the cage had plummeted to the pit bottom, killing eight men.
He nodded to the miner beside him. It was Harry "Suet" Hewitt, a pudding-faced boy only three years older, though a foot taller. Billy remembered Harry in school: he had been stuck in Standard Three with the ten-year-olds, failing the exam every year, until he was old enough to start work.
A bell rang, signifying that the onsetter at the pit bottom had closed his gate. The banksman pulled a lever and a different bell rang. The steam engine hissed, then there was another bang.
The cage fell into empty space.
Billy knew that it went into free fall, then braked in time for a soft landing; but no theoretical foreknowledge could have prepared him for the sensation of dropping unhindered into the bowels of the earth. His feet left the floor. He screamed in terror. He could not help himself.
All the men laughed. They knew it was his first time and had been waiting for his reaction, he realized. Too late, he saw that they were all holding the bars of the cage to prevent themselves floating up. But the knowledge did nothing to calm his fear. He managed to stop screaming only by clamping his teeth together.
At last the brake engaged. The speed of the fall slowed, and Billy's feet touched the floor. He grabbed a bar and tried to stop shaking. After a minute the fear was replaced by a sense of injury so strong that tears threatened. He looked into the laughing face of Suet and shouted over the noise: "Shut your great gob, Hewitt, you shitbrain."
Suet's face changed in an instant and he looked furious, but the other men laughed all the more. Billy would have to say sorry to Jesus for swearing, but he felt a bit less of a fool.
He looked at Tommy, who was white-faced. Had Tommy screamed? Billy was afraid to ask in case the answer might be no.
The cage stopped, the gate was thrown back, and Billy and Tommy walked shakily out into the mine.
It was gloomy. The miners' lamps gave less light than the paraffin lights on the walls at home. The pit was as dark as a night with no moon. Perhaps they did not need to see well to hew coal, Billy thought. He splashed through a puddle, and looking down he saw water and mud everywhere, gleaming with the faint reflections of lamp flames. There was a strange taste in his mouth: the air was thick with coal dust. Was it possible that men breathed this all day? That must be why miners coughed and spat constantly.
Four men were waiting to enter the cage and go up to the surface.
Each carried a leather case, and Billy realized they were the firemen. Every morning, before the miners started, the firemen tested for gas. If the concentration of methane was unacceptably high they would order the men not to work until the ventilation fans cleared the gas.
In the immediate neighborhood Billy could see a row of stalls for ponies and an open door leading to a brightly lit room with a desk, presumably an office for deputies. The men dispersed, walking away along four tunnels that radiated from the pit bottom. Tunnels were called headings, and they led to the districts where the coal was won.
Price took them to a shed and undid a padlock. The place was a tool store. He selected two shovels, gave them to the boys, and locked up again.
They went to the stables. A man wearing only shorts and boots was shoveling soiled straw out of a stall, pitching it into a coal dram. Sweat ran down his muscular back. Price said to him: "Do you want a boy to help you?"
The man turned around, and Billy recognized Dai Ponies, an elder of the Bethesda Chapel. Dai gave no sign of recognizing Billy. "I don't want the little one," he said.
"Right," said Price. "The other is Tommy Griffiths. He's yours."
Tommy looked pleased. He had got his wish. Even though he would only be mucking out stalls, he was working in the stables.
Price said: "Come on, Billy Twice," and he walked into one of the headings.
Billy shouldered his shovel and followed. He felt more anxious now that Tommy was no longer with him. He wished he had been set to mucking out stalls alongside his friend. "What will I be doing, Mr. Price?" he said.
"You can guess, can't you?" said Price. "Why do you think I gave you a fucking shovel?"
Billy was shocked by the casual use of the forbidden word. He could not guess what he would be doing, but he asked no more questions.
The tunnel was round, its roof reinforced by curved steel supports. A two-inch pipe ran along its crown, presumably carrying water. Every night the headings were sprinkled in an attempt to reduce the dust. It was not merely a danger to men's lungs—if that were all, Celtic Minerals probably would not have cared—but it constituted a fire hazard. However, the sprinkler system was inadequate. Da had argued that a pipe of six inches' diameter was needed, but Perceval Jones had refused to spend the money.
After about a quarter of a mile they turned into a cross tunnel that sloped upward. This was an older, smaller passage, with timber props rather than steel rings. Price had to duck his head where the roof sagged. At intervals of about thirty yards they passed the entrances to workplaces where the miners were already hewing the coal.
Billy heard a rumbling sound, and Price said: "Into the manhole."
"What?" Billy looked at the ground. A manhole was a feature of town pavements, and he could see nothing on the floor but the railway tracks that carried the drams. He looked up to see a pony trotting toward him, coming fast down the slope, drawing a train of drams.
"In the manhole!" Price shouted.
Still Billy did not understand what was required of him, but he could see that the tunnel was hardly wider than the drams, and he would be crushed. Then Price seemed to step into the wall and disappear.
Billy dropped his shovel, turned, and ran back the way he had come. He tried to get ahead of the pony, but it was moving surprisingly fast. Then he saw a niche cut into the wall, the full height of the tunnel, and he realized that he had seen such niches, without remarking them, every twenty-five yards or so. This must be what Price meant by a manhole. He threw himself in, and the train rumbled past.
When it had gone he stepped out, breathing hard.
Price pretended to be angry, but he was smiling. "You'll have to be more alert than that," he said. "Otherwise you'll get killed down here—like your brother."
Most men enjoyed exposing and mocking the ignorance of boys, Billy found. He was determined to be different when he grew up.
He picked up his shovel. It was undamaged. "Lucky for you," Price commented. "If the dram had broken it, you would have had to pay for a new one."
They went on and soon entered an exhausted district where the workplaces were deserted. There was less water underfoot, and the ground was covered with a thick layer of coal dust. They took several turnings and Billy lost his sense of direction.
They came to a place where the tunnel was blocked by a dirty old dram. "This area has to be cleaned up," Price said. It was the first time he had bothered to explain anything, and Billy had a feeling he was lying. "Your job is to shovel the muck into the dram."
Billy looked around. The dust was a foot thick to the limit of the light cast by his lamp, and he guessed it went a lot farther. He could shovel for a week without making much impression. And what was the point? The district was worked out. But he asked no questions. This was probably some kind of test.
"I'll come back in a bit and see how you're getting on," Price said, and he retraced his steps, leaving Billy alone.
Billy had not expected this. He had assumed he would be working with older men and learning from them. But he could only do what he was told.
He unhooked the lamp from his belt and looked around for somewhere to put it. There was nothing he could use as a shelf. He put the lamp on the floor, but it was almost useless there. Then he remembered the nails Da had given him. So this was what they were for. He took one from his pocket. Using the blade of his shovel, he hammered it into a timber prop, then hung up his lamp. That was better.
The dram was chest high to a man but shoulder height to Billy, and when he started work he found that half the dust slipped off his shovel before he could get it over the lip. He developed an action that turned the blade to prevent this happening. In a few minutes he was bathed in sweat, and he realized what the second nail was for. He hammered it into another timber and hung up his shirt and trousers.
After a while he felt that someone was watching him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a dim figure standing as still as a statue. "Oh, God!" he shrieked, and he turned around to face it.
It was Price. "I forgot to check your lamp," he said. He took Billy's lamp off the nail and did something to it. "Not so good," he said. "I'll leave you mine." He hung up the other lamp and disappeared.
He was a creepy character, but at least he seemed to have Billy's safety in mind.
Billy resumed work. Before long his arms and legs began to ache. He was used to shoveling, he told himself: Da kept a pig in the waste ground behind the house, and it was Billy's job to muck out the sty once a week. But that took about a quarter of an hour. Could he possibly keep this up all day?
Under the dust was a floor of rock and clay. After a while he had cleared an area four feet square, the width of the tunnel. The muck hardly covered the bottom of the dram, but he felt exhausted.
He tried to pull the dram forward so that he would not have to walk so far with his shovelful, but its wheels seemed to have locked with disuse.
He had no watch, and it was difficult to know how much time had passed. He began to work more slowly, conserving his strength.
Then his light went out.
The flame flickered first, and he looked anxiously at the lamp hanging on the nail, but he knew that the flame would lengthen if there was firedamp. This was not what he was seeing, so he felt reassured. Then the flame went out altogether.
He had never known darkness like this. He saw nothing, not even patches of gray, not even different shades of black. He lifted his shovel to face level and held it an inch from his nose, but he could not see it. This was what it must be like to be blind.
He stood still. What was he to do? He was supposed to take the lamp to the lighting station, but he could not have found his way back through the tunnels even if he had been able to see. In this blackness he might blunder about for hours. He had no idea how many miles the disused workings extended, and he did not want the men to have to send a search party for him.
He would just have to wait for Price. The deputy had said he would come back "in a bit." That could mean a few minutes, or an hour or more. And Billy suspected it would be later rather than sooner. Price had surely intended this. A safety lamp could not blow out, and anyway there was little wind here. Price had taken Billy's lamp and substituted one that was low on oil.
He felt a surge of self-pity, and tears came to his eyes. What had he done to deserve this? Then he pulled himself together. It was another test, like the cage. He would show them he was tough enough.
He should carry on working, even in the dark, he decided. Moving for the first time since the light went out, he put his shovel to the ground and ran it forward, trying to pick up dust. When he lifted it he thought, by its weight, that there was a load on the blade. He turned and walked two paces, then hefted it, trying to throw the muck into the dram, but he misjudged the height. The shovel clanged against the side of the dram and felt suddenly lighter as its load fell to the ground.
He would adjust. He tried again, lifting the shovel higher. When he had unloaded the blade he let it fall, and felt the wooden shaft bang against the lip of the dram. That was better.
As the work took him farther from the dram he continued to miss occasionally, until he began to count his paces aloud. He got into a rhythm, and although his muscles hurt he was able to carry on.
As the work became automatic, his mind was free to wander, which was not so good. He wondered how far the tunnel extended ahead of him and how long it had been disused. He thought of the earth above his head, extending for half a mile, and the weight being held up by these old timber props. He recalled his brother, Wesley, and the other men who had died in this mine. But their spirits were not here, of course. Wesley was with Jesus. The others might be, too. If not they were in a different place.
He began to feel frightened and decided it was a mistake to think about spirits. He was hungry. Was it time for his snap? He had no idea, but he thought he might as well eat it. He made his way to the place where he had hung his clothes, fumbled on the ground below, and found his flask and tin.
He sat with his back against the wall and took a long drink of cold, sweet tea. As he was eating his bread-and-dripping he heard a faint noise. He hoped it might be the creaking of Rhys Price's boots, but that was wishful thinking. He knew that squeak: it was rats.
He was not afraid. There were plenty of rats in the ditches that ran along every street in Aberowen. But they seemed bolder in the dark, and a moment later one ran over his bare legs. Transferring his food to his left hand, he picked up his shovel and lashed out. It did not even scare them, and he felt the tiny claws on his skin again. This time one tried to run up his arm. Obviously they could smell the food. The squeaking increased, and he wondered how many there were.
He stood up and crammed the last of his bread into his mouth. He drank some more tea, then ate his cake. It was delicious, full of dried fruit and almonds; but a rat ran up his leg, and he was forced to gobble the cake.
They seemed to know the food was gone, for the squeaking gradually died down and then stopped altogether.
Eating gave Billy renewed energy for a while, and he went back to work, but he had a burning ache in his back. He kept going more slowly, stopping for frequent rests.
To cheer himself up, he told himself it might be later than he thought. Perhaps it was noon already. Someone would come to fetch him at the end of the shift. The lamp man checked the numbers, so they always knew if a man had not come back up. But Price had taken Billy's lamp and substituted a different one. Could he be planning to leave Billy down here overnight?
It would never work. Da would raise the roof. The bosses were afraid of Da—Perceval Jones had more or less admitted it. Sooner or later, someone was sure to look for Billy.
But when he got hungry again he felt sure many hours must have passed. He started to get scared, and this time he could not shake it off. It was the darkness that unnerved him. He could have borne the waiting if he had been able to see. In the complete blackness he felt he was losing his mind. He had no sense of direction, and every time he walked back from the dram he wondered if he was about to crash into the tunnel side. Earlier he had worried about crying like a child. Now he had to stop himself screaming.
Then he recalled what Mam had said to him: "Jesus is always with you, even down the pit." At the time he had thought she was just telling him to behave well. But she had been wiser than that. Of course Jesus was with him. Jesus was everywhere. The darkness did not matter, nor the passage of time. Billy had someone taking care of him.
To remind him of that, he sang a hymn. He disliked his voice, which was still a treble, but there was no one to hear him, so he sang as loud as he could. When he had sung all the verses, and the scary feeling began to return, he imagined Jesus standing just the other side of the dram, watching, with a look of grave compassion on his bearded face.
Billy sang another hymn. He shoveled and paced to the time of the music. Most of the hymns went with a swing. Every now and then he suffered again the fear that he might have been forgotten, the shift might have ended and he might be alone down there; then he would just remember the robed figure standing with him in the dark.
He knew plenty of hymns. He had been going to the Bethesda Chapel three times every Sunday since he was old enough to sit quietly. Hymnbooks were expensive, and not all the congregation could read, so everyone learned the words.
When he had sung twelve hymns, he reckoned an hour had passed. Surely it must be the end of the shift? But he sang another twelve. After that it was hard to keep track. He sang his favorites twice. He worked slower and slower.
He was singing "Up from the Grave He Arose" at the top of his voice when he saw a light. The work had become so automatic that he did not stop, but picked up another shovelful and carried it to the dram, still singing, while the light grew stronger. When the hymn came to an end he leaned on his shovel. Rhys Price stood watching him, lamp at his belt, with a strange look on his shadowed face.
Billy would not let himself feel relief. He was not going to show Price how he felt. He put on his shirt and trousers, then took the unlit lamp from the nail and hung it on his belt.
Price said: "What happened to your lamp?"
"You know what happened," Billy said, and his voice sounded strangely grown-up.
Price turned away and walked back along the tunnel.
Billy hesitated. He looked the opposite way. Just the other side of the dram he glimpsed a bearded face and a pale robe, but the figure disappeared like a thought. "Thank you," Billy said to the empty tunnel.
As he followed Price, his legs ached so badly that he felt he might fall down, but he hardly cared if he did. He could see again, and the shift was over. Soon he would be home and he could lie down.
They reached the pit bottom and got into the cage with a crowd of black-faced miners. Tommy Griffiths was not among them, but Suet Hewitt was. As they waited for the signal from above, Billy noticed they were looking at him with sly grins.
Hewitt said: "How did you get on, then, on your first day, Billy Twice?"
"Fine, thank you," Billy said.
Hewitt's expression was malicious: no doubt he was remembering that Billy had called him shitbrain. He said: "No problems?"
Billy hesitated. Obviously they knew something. He wanted them to know that he had not succumbed to fear. "My lamp went out," he said, and he just about managed to keep his voice steady. He looked at Price, but decided it would be more manly not to accuse him. "It was a bit difficult shoveling in the dark all day," he finished. That was too understated—they might think his ordeal had been nothing much—but it was better than admitting to fear.
An older man spoke. It was John Jones the Shop, so called because his wife ran a little general store in their parlor. "All day?" he said.
Billy said: "Aye."
John Jones looked at Price and said: "You bastard, it's only supposed to be for an hour."
Billy's suspicion was confirmed. They all knew what had happened, and it sounded as if they did something similar to all new boys. But Price had made it worse than usual.
Suet Hewitt was grinning. "Weren't you scared, Billy boy, on your own in the dark?"
He thought about his answer. They were all looking at him, waiting to hear what he would say. Their sly smiles had gone, and they seemed a bit ashamed. He decided to tell the truth. "I was scared, yes, but I wasn't on my own."
Hewitt was baffled. "Not on your own?"
"No, of course not," Billy said. "Jesus was with me."
Hewitt laughed loudly, but no one else did. His guffaw resounded in the silence and stopped suddenly.
The hush lasted several seconds. Then there was a clang of metal and a jerk, and the cage lifted. Harry turned away.
After that, they called him Billy-with-Jesus.
What People are saying about this
“Follett is masterly in conveying so much drama and historical information so vividly…grippingly told.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Fall of Giants is classic Follett.”—USA Today
“Follett conjures the winds of war.”—The Washington Post
“Grand in scope, scale, and story.”—The Associated Press
“A suspenseful epic.”—The Seattle Times
“Fascinating, in a big way.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Meet the Author
Ken Follett is one of the world's best–loved novelists. He has sold more than one hundred million copies. His last book, World Without End, went straight to the No. 1 position on bestseller lists in the United States, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France.
He first hit the charts in 1978 with Eye of the Needle, a taut and original thriller with a memorable woman character in the central role. The book won the Edgar Award and became an outstanding film starring Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland.
He went on to write four more bestselling thrillers: Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man from St. Petersburg, and Lie Down with Lions. Cliff Robertson and David Soul starred in the miniseries of The Key to Rebecca. In 1994 Timothy Dalton, Omar Sharif, and Marg Helgenberger starred in the miniseries of Lie Down with Lions.
He also wrote On Wings of Eagles, the true story of how two employees of Ross Perot were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979. This book was made into a miniseries with Richard Crenna as Ross Perot and Burt Lancaster as Colonel "Bull" Simons.
Ken Follett then surprised readers by radically changing course with The Pillars of the Earth, a novel about building a cathedral in the Middle Ages. Published in September 1989 to rave reviews, it was on the New York Times bestseller list for eighteen weeks. It also reached the No. 1 position on lists in Canada, Great Britain, and Italy, and was on the German bestseller list for six years. It was voted the third greatest book ever written by 250,000 viewers of the German television station ZDF in 2004, beaten only by The Lord of the Rings and the Bible. When The Times (London) asked its readers to vote for the sixty greatest novels of the last sixty years, The Pillars of the Earth was placed at No. 2, after To Kill a Mockingbird. (The sequel, World Without End, was No. 23 on the same list.) In November 2007, Pillars became the most popular choice of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, returning to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The miniseries, produced by Ridley Scott and starring Ian McShane and Matthew Macfadyen, is due for broadcast in 2010.
After Pillars, Ken Follett abandoned the straightforward spy genre for awhile, but his stories still had powerful narrative drive, strong women characters, and elements of suspense and intrigue. Night over Water, A Dangerous Fortune, and A Place Called Freedom followed.
Then he returned to the thriller. The Third Twin was a scorching suspense novel about a young woman scientist who stumbles across a secret experiment in genetic engineering. Miniseries rights were sold to CBS for $1,400,000, a record price for four hours of television. The series, starring Kelly McGillis and Larry Hagman, was broadcast in the United States in November 1997. (Ken Follett appeared briefly as the butler.) In Publishing Trends' annual survey of international fiction bestsellers for 1997, The Third Twin was ranked No. 2 in the world, beaten only by John Grisham's The Partner.
The Hammer of Eden, another nail–biting contemporary suspense story, came in 1998. Code to Zero (2000), about brainwashing and rocket science in the fifties, went to No. 1 on bestseller lists in the United States, Germany, and Italy, and film rights were snapped up by Doug Wick, producer of Gladiator, in a seven-figure deal. Jackdaws (2001), a World War II spy story in the tradition of Eye of the Needle, won the Corine Prize for 2003. Film rights were sold to Dino De Laurentiis. Hornet Flight, about two young people who escape from German–occupied Denmark in a Hornet Moth biplane, is loosely based on a true story. It was published in December 2002. Whiteout, a contemporary thriller about the theft of a dangerous virus from a laboratory, was published in 2004 and made into a miniseries in 2009.
World Without End, the long–awaited sequel to The Pillars of the Earth, was published in October 2007. It is set in Kingsbridge, the fictional location of the cathedral in Pillars, and features the descendants of the original characters at the time of the Black Death. It was a No.1 bestseller in Italy, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Spain, where it was the fastest–selling book ever published in the Spanish language, outstripping the last Harry Potter book.
A board game based on The Pillars of the Earth was released worldwide in 2007 – 2008 and won the following prizes: Deutscher Spielepreis 2007, Game of the Year 2007 in the United States (GAMES 100), Jeu d'annee 2007 (Canada), Juego del ano 2007 (Spain), Japan Boardgame Prize 2007, Arets Spill 2007 (Norway), and Spiele Hit 2007 (Austria). It was a nominee in Finland, France, and the Netherlands, and got a recommendation in Germany by the Jury "Spiel des Jahres."
In 2008 Ken was awarded the Olaguibel Prize by the Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos Vasco–Navarro for contributing to the promotion and awareness of architecture. A statue of him by the distinguished Spanish sculptor Casto Solano was unveiled in January 2008 outside the Cathedral of Santa Maria in the Basque capital of Vitoria–Gasteiz in northern Spain.
His next project is his most ambitious yet. The Century Trilogy will tell the entire history of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of five linked families: one American, one English, one German, one Russian, and one Welsh. The first book, Fall of Giants, focusing on the First World War and the Russian Revolution, will be published worldwide simultaneously on September 28, 2010. He is already at work on the second book, provisionally titled The Winter of the World, about the Spanish civil war, the Second World War, and the development of nuclear weapons.
Ken Follett is married to Barbara Follett, a political activist who was the member of Parliament for Stevenage in Hertfordshire for thirteen years and minister for culture in the government of Gordon Brown. They live in a rambling rectory in Stevenage and also have an eighteenth-century town house in London and a beach house in Antigua. Ken Follett is a lover of Shakespeare and is often seen at London productions of the Bard's plays. An enthusiastic amateur musician, he plays bass guitar in a band called Damn Right I Got the Blues and appears occasionally with the folk group Clog Iron playing a bass balalaika.
He was chair of the National Year of Reading 1998 – 99, a British government initiative to raise literacy levels. He was president of the charity Dyslexia Action for ten years. He is a member of The Welsh Academy, a board director of the National Academy of Writing, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2007 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Literature (D.Litt.) by the University of Glamorgan as well as similar degrees by Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan—where his papers are kept in the Ken Follett Archive—and by the University of Exeter in 2008. He is active in numerous Stevenage charities and was a governor of Roebuck Primary School for ten years, serving as chair of governors for four of those years.
He was born on June 5, 1949, in Cardiff, Wales, the son of a tax inspector. He was educated at state schools and
- Hertfordshire, England
- Date of Birth:
- June 5, 1949
- Place of Birth:
- Cardiff, Wales
- B.A. in Philosophy, University College, London, 1970
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is the first book of a new series. Starts with Welsh miners in early 20th century and intermission (ends) in the 1920's. The interaction historically is wonderful, the characters are extremely varied and it's amazing how they tie together. Follett goes into great detail of the characters. The book is very instructional on the politics of the era and the various characters are examples of the points of view of the period and how the politics eventually affect them. This is not a book you can read 5 pages at a time. Chapters are 50 pages. Find a comfortable chair, a good bottle of wine, and plan on a weekend of wonderful reading. If you're a part of a book club, plan on chapter discussions, they will be extremely stimulating. IF I had a complaint, it's that the book jumps between the characters. I plan on reading the book a second time, a character at a time. A definite for your Library. You'll want to keep a copy to reread when the second comes out.
Having had the opportunity to actually read the book, I can tell you that Mr. Follett is spot on yet again. His razor sharp story telling, character development and interwoven storyline are all realized brilliantly. The entanglement of these characters with each other leads to a complex yet seamless journey around the globe. The book is fast paced, almost impossible to put down and sure to be an instant classic! I can not more highly suggest a title, this one was incredible. That being said, while I agree that the eBook price is outrageous, please note that the price is not set by Mr. Follet, it is in fact, set by his publisher. While I can say this book blew me away, I'm do not think I would purchase this title until Penguin decides to stop punishing those of us who have decided to invest in the future of electronic publishing. Book: 5 stars, ebook price: 0 stars.
To all who have complained about the price of this novel, I will be the first to admit, it is worth every dollar. Fall of Giants falls into the status level of 'Gone with the Wind.' I would have paid $40 to have the experience of reading Margaret Mitchell's timeless classic. Price is relative to all and all will have their different thresholds. I spent twenty dollars to have a fascinating journey into the early 20th century. The same day, I spent twenty dollars on cleaning supplies for my kitchen. Guess which will have the most lasting impact on my life? This is an exceptional story with Follett creating depth into his characters in which very few authors can achieve. The list of characters in the beginning of the novel can be daunting but Follett introduces his characters to the reader as if they were part of your family. You understand their thought process and inner workings to the point where emotions are evoked, similar to the way family members evoke certain emotions at Thanksgiving... for better or worse. This historical fiction has the abilty to open eyes to the complicated yet simplistic world of politics. Find a weekend with no commitments then buy this novel, a bathtub shelf, bubble bath, and a bottle of wine. On Monday, tell me what the price is to your mind and soul, of having the opportunity to enjoy the luxuries of a warm bath with an amazing novel.
Greed by the publishers take over again. Last Christmas, when I got my Nook, ebooks were about $10, then 4 months later $15, now $20. Love the books by Follett but not at this price. All who read this should put off buying this book until its $10, maybe the publishers may see the error of their ways.
It's unfair to rate this book with one star because you're upset with Barnes & Noble's ebook price. That has nothing to do with a book review.
This ,as other books by KF is a worthwhile read. I suggest borrowing it or get it from libraryor get it used - - the ebook is too expensive! I borrowed it, and it's bulky snd cumberson compared to the nook, but it was free. and definitely worthwhile!! On line go to contact us" in customer service - mention the cost of the e books there too!! This is the responce I received when I did. eBooks are an emerging category and many pricing models are being tested from both publishers and retailers. What's important for all of our customers to know, is that we are committed to providing them with the widest catalog of digital books and ePeriodicals, that they can read and take with them on more devices than any other ebookstore. However, Barnes and Noble does not control the pricing of eBooks. Publishers, for the most part, control the pricing of digital books. The move to publisher pricing happened very quickly and this change became official recently.
I like Follett and would love to have downloaded this one, but not for $20. I'll wait until it comes out in paperback.
I can not begin to rave enough on the brilliance and quality of the writing, research, and sheer story telling by Ken Follett in Fall of Giants. The story is full of historical details, but Ken Follett finds a way to keep the story moving at an easibly readable pace. No matter if you are a history ethusiast or an average book reader you will love this novel. All who boycott it simply due to price are missing out.
I am writing this as a rebuttal for all the NEGATIVE "reviews" that were posted for FALL OF THE GIANTS. Barnes & Nobles, or any other book store, should NOT permit comments re: pricing to be listed as a review. THIS IS NOT A BOOK REVIEW!! PERIOD. END OF STORY. I'm confident we will not be disappointed in this book; so far I've not been disappointed in any of Ken Follett's books. It will be wonderful to read a trilogy about a more modern time that we might be able to relate to. Perhaps some of our ancestors came from some of the places KF wrote written about. I can't wait to get started!! For those of us who plan to enjoy ourselves page by page; HAPPY READING!! :-) As for the rest of the complainers about price, etc., KEEP THESE COMMENTS OUT OF THE BOOK REVIEWS! SEND YOUR COMPLAINTS DIRECTLY TO BARNES & NOBLES; THAT'S WHERE THEY BELONG---NOT HERE! WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BOOK--NOT THE PRICE!!!
I was somewhat hesitant to purchase this book because of the reviews, but I am so glad I did. The characters are engaging and I love the fact that it is about World War I. There are not that many historical novels about the politics and events of this time period. It reminds me of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, both of which I totally loved. I am eagerly awaiting the next in the series!
Ken Follett never disappoints and he is one of the few who gets better with age. I didn't think I would enjoy any book as much as Pillars of the Earth. Fall of Giants is my new favorite! I hope he doesn't make us wait too long for the second book of the trilogy. I can't recommend this book enough. The characters are interesting, the storyline is so smooth and the writing is suburb. 1000 pages of pure joy!!!!!! Keep 'em coming!
I remember my Grandmother telling me how the world was when she was 15 when the US entered WWI. This book gave me a global view which was fantastic. The only thing that the book did not truly expose was the effects of gas warfare and the world-wide Influenza that killed around 25 million people. But other than that, I found it very very good.
Once again, Ken Follett has given us a dramatic look into history with this sweeping epic. Follett is a master at fleshing out an extraordinary number of characters. It can be a bit overwhelming when you read the character list at the start of the story, however, by about a third the way into the book I found myself thoroughly engrossed in their lives. The action picks up about half way in and although there are a few chance encounters that seem a bit too contrived, overall the story flows well and the historical aspects make for a fascinating read. I'm now well past the half way point and can without a doubt say that if you liked "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End" the Century Trilogy will be right up your alley. This first book covers what is probably the most patchy area of 20th century history for me, I've learned so much through the course of this book and especially find the story of the Russian Revolution engrossing. Cannot wait to see what Books 2 & 3 have in store!
The story was fantastic from start to finish. The price however was hard to swallow for an e-book. However, I won't punish the rating of the story based on the price. This books is up their with "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End".
I really enjoyed this book, and I read tons of historical fiction. I was stunned at the number of "bad" reviews from people who obviously haven't bought or read the book. If you don't want to pay for it, don't buy it. But you will miss a really great read. Although it follows the lives of several characters over time, it was easy for me to follow and very captivating. I have read Ken Follett's other novels and this ranks as one of my very favorites.
I am a big fan of Follett's previous epic novels, but couldn't be more disappointed with this one. I'm no prude by any means, but had all of the explicit sex and descriptions been left out, this might have been a decent novel. The idea behind the historical story line would have been wonderful to follow through this proposed trilogy, but I will not read any more of them. The author writes like a horny teenaged boy in this novel taking away immensely from the important historical aspects that he tries to cover. In short---rating of ZERO...don't waste your money or time.
Usually, I'm a avid fan of Ken Follet's book however, this book bored me and I found it hard to stay awake. I did read the entire book and along the way wished for something great to happen but instead, I was thrown for reading "encyclopedia of world war I"....big disappointment!!
I just finished reading Fall of Giants and can't wait to read the 2nd book in the trilogy. I planned ahead to read it on my vacation due to the length of the book and my inability to put a book down once I start reading. I downloaded it onto my nook and enjoyed every moment of being transported to another place and time. For those of you complaining about the eBook price compared to other eBooks, I say this: we are paying for the content, not the method of delivery. We are paying for a talented author, a well-researched history-based story, quality writing, and a beefy novel you can sink your teeth into. A fast-food burger is not the same (and doesn't command the same price) as a gourmet burger. The same is true for books, so sit back, relax, and savor every page (all 790 nook pages) of a great story.
Great account of history, politics, and the human condition weaved into a gripping historical fiction. Thourghly enjoyed the pace of the book and appreciative of the great length Follett takes in developing his characters. Not quite on the epic level of 'Pillar's'.... just yet but has the potential to be a close second. CONS: slow start(pg. 1-100) but really picks up and of course PRICEY!!! If you can wait for it at the library CHEERS!!!......if not, no worries, you'll get what you pay for. TO ALL WHO ARE REALLY MAKING AN EXAGERATED FUSS OVER PRICE research Aggregate Demand...simple economics. ; )
If you're like me, you are not very good at remembering all that history they shoved into your head in school. This book appealed to me because I do have an interest in historical matters, though I lack the attention span for most of it. The way this book presents the historical facts makes it easy to pay attention and enjoy learning. The character interactions are a bit repetative and predictable, but overall the story is a good read.
Nook buyers bought a nook in order to have a chance to read new books at a better price. Perhaps having this book's rating lowered by our protest will catch the publisher's attention and prevent future price-gouging. Or maybe they will lower the price on this one. You can buy the hardback from Amazon for less than the nook price, which is crazy. I'll read it at the library.
There must be a pricing error for this book. If everyone does not stick together and refuse to purchase this book, all E-books will be priced like this in the future. You wanna pay that for all E-books? Very greedy publisher.
Ludicrous I say! Laughable! The mere notion of paying $20 dollars for an e-book is absurd! That is all.
Well developed characters. Marvelously detailed. In-depth research prior to writing is obvious.
A bit too much time on the battlefield for me.