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The Pillars of the Earth (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

The Pillars of the Earth (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

4.3 2543
by Ken Follett

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A departure for the bestselling thriller writer, this historical epic-a twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral-stunned readers and critics alike with its ambitious scope and gripping humanity


A departure for the bestselling thriller writer, this historical epic-a twelfth-century tale of the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral-stunned readers and critics alike with its ambitious scope and gripping humanity

Editorial Reviews

Cecilia Holland
For roughly 500 pages, half the book, cathedrals and rapine are enough. Mr. Follett's male characters are chess pieces, clearly labeled Good Guy and Bad Guy. There is a saintly churchman and a bad one; the saint plays politics just as much as the sinner, but we know which one is the villain because he wears black. Mr. Follett's female characters are virtually indistinguishable from one another, plucky types whom men must nonetheless rescue from any real danger....Like a cathedral built too high, Mr. Follett's story develops cracks, and chunks of it fall into the crypt. The plot, which theoretically centers on the building of a cathedral, spills off into too many different directions, including a whirlwind tour of Europe and a completely obvious mystery. The characters never grow, and without some deepening emotional discovery, the world of the novel becomes trite, the incidentsThe vigor and intensity of the first half of the book may bring The Pillars of the Earth popular success. But half a book isn't good enough, especially at these prices. repetitious. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Tom Builder's dream is to build a cathedral, but in the meantime, he must scrounge about to find a lord that will hire him. His search pulls him and his family into the politics of 12th-century England, as different lords vie to gain control of the throne in the wake of the recently deceased king. Prior Phillip, a man raised in the monastery since childhood, also finds himself drafted into the brewing storm as he must protect the interests of a declining church. Richard E. Grant seduces readers early on with a soft and deliberate voice that is like a loud whisper. However, his full range quickly reveals itself as he delves into characters with animated voices that exert their true essence. Even throughout the narrative, Grant musters a lively voice that imbues energy into the story. The only shortcoming is that the abridgment of Follett's 1989 novel proves to be too choppy. Though the story appears complete, there still remain abrupt moments throughout the tale. Penguin Audio's unabridged version is read by John Lee and runs 41 hours. (Dec.)

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner, escaping the narrow genre of suspense thrillers to take credit for a historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization. Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through four decades during which social and political upheaval and the internal politics of the church affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists. The insightful portrayals of an idealistic master builder, a pious, dogmatic but compassionate prior and an unscrupulous, ruthless bishop are balanced by those of a trio of independent, resourceful women (one of them quite loathesome) who can stand on their own as memorable characters in any genre. Beginning with a mystery that casts its shadow on ensuing events, the narrative is a seesaw of tension in which circumstances change with shocking but true-to-life unpredictability. Follett's impeccable pacing builds suspense in a balanced narrative that offers action, intrigue, violence and passion as well as the step-by-step description of an edifice rising in slow stages, its progress tied to the vicissitudes of fortune and the permutations of evolving architectural style. Follett's depiction of the precarious balance of power between monarchy and religion in the Middle Ages, and of the effects of social upheavals and the forces of nature (storms, famines) on political events; his ability to convey the fine points of architecture so that the cathedral becomes clearly visualized in the reader's mind; and above all, his portrayals of the enduring human emotions of ambition, greed, bravery, dedication, revenge and love, result in a highly engrossing narrative. Manipulating a complex plot in which the characters interact against a broad canvas of medieval life, Follett has written a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale.
Library Journal
A radical departure from Follett's novels of international suspense and intrigue, this chronicles the vicissitudes of a prior, his master builder, and their community as they struggle to build a cathedral and protect themselves during the tumultuous 12th century, when the empress Maud and Stephen are fighting for the crown of England after the death of Henry I. The plot is less tightly controlled than those in Follett's contemporary works, and despite the wealth of historical detail, especially concerning architecture and construction, much of the language as well as the psychology of the characters and their relationships remains firmly rooted in the 20th century. This will appeal more to lovers of exciting adventure stories than true devotees of historical fiction. Literary Guild dual main selection.-- Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.

Product Details

Demco Media
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Product dimensions:
4.25(w) x 7.25(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Pillars of the Earth

Chapter One

In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.

The walls were already three feet high and rising fast. The two masons Tom had engaged were working steadily in the sunshine, their trowels going scrape, slap and then tap, tap while their laborer sweated under the weight of the big stone blocks. Tom's son Alfred was mixing mortar, counting aloud as he scooped sand onto a board. There was also a carpenter, working at the bench beside Tom, carefully shaping a length of beech wood with an adz.

Alfred was fourteen years old, and tall like Tom. Tom was a head higher than most men, and Alfred was only a couple of inches less, and still growing. They looked alike, too: both had light-brown hair and greenish eyes with brown flecks. People said they were a handsome pair. The main difference between them was that Tom had a curly brown beard, whereas Alfred had only a fine blond fluff. The hair on Alfred's head had been that color once, Tom remembered fondly. Now that Alfred was becoming a man, Tom wished he would take a more intelligent interest in his work, for he had a lot to learn if he was to be a mason like his father; but so far Alfred remained bored and baffled by the principles of building.

When the house was finished it would be the most luxurious home for miles around. The ground floor would be a spacious undercroft, for storage, with a curved vault for a ceiling, so that it would not catch fire. The hail, where people actually lived, would be above, reached by an outside staircase, its height making ithard to attack and easy to defend. Against the hail wall there would be a chimney, to take away the smoke of the fire. This was a radical innovation: Tom had only ever seen one house with a chimney, but it had struck him as such a good idea that he was determined to copy it. At one end of the house, over the hall, there would be a small bedroom, for that was what earls' daughters demanded nowadays—they were too fine to sleep in the hall with the men and the serving wenches and the hunting dogs. The kitchen would be a separate building, for every kitchen caught fire sooner or later, and there was nothing for it but to build them far away from everything else and put up with lukewarm food.

Tom was making the doorway of the house. The doorposts would be rounded to look like columns—a touch of distinction for the noble newlyweds who were to live here. With his eye on the shaped wooden template he was using as a guide, Tom set his iron chisel obliquely against the stone and tapped it gently with the big wooden hammer. A small shower of fragments fell away from the surface, leaving the shape a little rounder. He did it again. Smooth enough for a cathedral.

He had worked on a cathedral once—Exeter. At first he had treated it like any other job. He had been angry and resentful when the master builder had warned him that his work was not quite up to standard: he knew himself to be rather more careful than the average mason. But then he realized that the walls of a cathedral had to be not just good, but perfect. This was because the cathedral was for God, and also because the building was so big that the slightest lean in the walls, the merest variation from the absolutely true and level, could weaken the structure fatally. Tom's resentment turned to fascination. The combination of a hugely ambitious building with merciless attention to the smallest detail opened Tom's eyes to the wonder of his craft. He learned from the Exeter master about the importance of proportion, the symbolism of various numbers, and the almost magical formulas for working out the correct width of a wall or the angle of a step in a spiral staircase. Such things captivated him. He was surprised to learn that many masons found them incomprehensible.

After a while Tom had become the master builder's right-hand man, and that was when he began to see the master's shortcomings. The man was a great craftsman and an incompetent organizer. He was completely baffled by the problems of obtaining the right quantity of stone to keep pace with the masons, making sure that the blacksmith made enough of the right tools, burning lime and carting sand for the mortar makers, felling trees for the carpenters, and getting enough money from the cathedral chapter to pay for everything.

If Tom had stayed at Exeter until the master builder died, he might have become master himself; but the chapter ran out of money—partly because of the master's mismanagement—and the craftsmen had to move on, looking for work elsewhere. Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city's fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents. But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral.

His wife, Agnes, had never understood that decision. They might have had a good stone house, and servants, and their own stables, and meat on the table every dinnertime; and she had never forgiven Tom for turning down the opportunity. She could not comprehend the irresistible attraction of building a cathedral: the absorbing complexity of organization, the intellectual challenge of the calculations, the sheer size of the walls, and the breathtaking beauty and grandeur of the finished building. Once he had tasted that wine, Tom was never satisfied with anything less.

That had been ten years ago. Since then they had never stayed anywhere for very long. He would design a new chapter house for a monastery, work for a year or two on a castle, or build a town house for a rich merchant; but as soon as he had some money saved he would leave, with his wife and children, and take to the road, looking for another cathedral.

The Pillars of the Earth. Copyright © by Ken Follett. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Brief Biography

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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The Pillars Of The Earth (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings. 2543 reviews.
LaRose2010 More than 1 year ago
Follett takes his readers on a surprising journey, exploring life in the 12th century village of Kingsbridge, a sleepy little town with a rundown church, an unimportant priory. Once the church burns to the ground, Kingsbridge becomes the unlikely stage for power struggles between church and state, the church's internal battles, and a civil war to determine England's new monarch. The lives of the characters buoy helplessly upon the waves of these sweeping changes and conflicts, each one overcome with their own quests for survival. At the crux of it all is each character's desire either to build, or to frustrate the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral. Follett's stuns his readers with what the characters are willing to do, to endure and to overcome in their race to manifest their own relentless ambitions, at any cost.
rosebud08 More than 1 year ago
Medieval Cathedral Architecture. Sounds Boring, doesn't it? But Ken Follett breathed life into what could be a mundane subject. He made me care about the sweat, sacrifice and genius that went into creating the most beautiful structures that still stand today. The characters crawled into my heart and still remain there. It's one of those books that you read and read saying, "I can't wait to see what happens in the end!" But when the end comes, you realize you won't be a part of their lives any more. I felt as if I lost my friends. For me, that's the sign of a good book.
DexterLW More than 1 year ago
In his treatise, "On Moral Fiction", John Gardner explained that one should come away from a work of fiction with some new knowledge. A mystery set in the MacCarthy era should not only entertain but provide information as to what MacCathyism was all about. In the development of the characters and the events they endured, Ken Follett educates the reader in the life and times of this remote era. Reveals the primitive nature of life during this time and the legal and social atmosphere that pervaded in Western Europe during the twelfth century. For those interested, cathedral architecture is addressed and the influence of the church is portrayed. Although the circumstances and events depicted as having occurred to the characters is sometimes a bit ludicrous, one can easily relate to their angst at times and joy at others. Their emotions are believable and, as in most other well written fiction, leave one with a sense of loss as the era ends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was skillfully wwritten with an outstanding plot filled with violence, hunger, lust, wars without end between rivals claiming the English throne, and characters that leap from the pages from which they were written. The detail is excruciating and the stoic nature within which death is dealt is interesting. What I found astounding was how Follet managed to draw on a parallels to istory. All those skilled craftsmen some dedicating their lives to building the Church, which one of the characters ironically by the name of Jack Jackson, Jack Builder etc. had burned down to avoid starvation. The book what can I possibly say? The only thing wrong with it paralle lsarrales starts up slowly and then accelerates to such a level that I stayed up from 10pm to 1am in the morning.

It brings to mind James Clavell's Shogun and how the plot, cultures, and uniqueness of the the Japanese culture in the time of the Samuraii and reveals the underpinnings of why they fought so fanatically to the death in the World Wars.
carlosmock More than 1 year ago
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet-or how to build a cathedral Loosely based on the story of Henry I of England who died on 1 December 1135. Although Henry's barons had sworn allegiance to his daughter as their Queen, her gender and her remarriage into the House of Anjou, an enemy of the Normans, allowed Henry's nephew Stephen of Blois, to come to England and claim the throne with popular support. The struggle between the former Empress and Stephen resulted in a long civil war known as the Anarchy. The dispute was eventually settled by Stephen's naming of Matilda's (Maud in the book) son, Henry Plantagenet, as his heir in 1153. In the story, Follett sets the thrillers aside for a long, steady story about building a cathedral in 12th-century England. Bloodthirsty or adventure-crazed Follett readers will be frustrated, but anyone who has ever been moved by the splendors of a fine church will sink right into this highly detailed but fast-moving historical work - a novel about the people and skills needed to put up an eye-popping cathedral in the very unsettled days just before the ascension of Henry II. The cathedral is the brainchild of Philip, prior of the monastery at Kingsbridge, and Tom, an itinerant master mason. Philip, shrewd and ambitious but genuinely devout, sees it as a sign of divine agreement when his decrepit old cathedral burns on the night that Tom and his starving family show up seeking shelter. Actually, it's Tom's clever stepson Jack who has stepped in to carry out God's will by secretly torching the cathedral attic, but the effect is the same. Tom gets the commission to start the rebuilding - which is what he has wanted to do more than anything in his life. Meanwhile, however, the work is complicated greatly by local politics. There is a loathsome baron, Wlilliam Hamleigh and his family who have usurped the local earldom and allied themselves with the powerful, cynical bishop, Walerian Bigod - who is himself sinfully jealous of Philip's cathedral. There are the dispossessed heirs to earldom, a beautiful girlAliena of Shiring and her bellicose brother,Robert, both sworn to root out the usurpers. And there is the mysterious Ellen, Tom's second wife, who witnessed an ancient treachery that haunts the bishop, the priory, and the vile would-be earl. The great work is set back, and Tom is killed in a raid by the rivals. It falls to young Jack to finish the work. Follets prose is amazing. His ability to build characters is incredible-they spring out of the poages as you read. He dominates the point of view techniques to the point that we sometimes are told the same story from different characters' points of view. My only complaint is the lenhgt of the story, Its a big, fat book that takes a good long while to read-983 small print pages-about 200 of them I would have edited out. It truly is a book about building a cathedral and the author spent several hundrede pages explaining how to build a cathedral-deviating from the main story. I would have deleted them. I enjoyed it. I recommend it to those whose attention spans can handle it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a thick book, but it goes fast. Good for a rainy day.
Warning - language, sex
Guest More than 1 year ago
What can I say that hasn't been said about this incredible book? I just reread it for the third time and it was totally engrossing again. Visit Ken Follett's website - it is a great site & he talks about Pillars at length. He says it has nearly become a 'cult'. Where do I join???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was awesome.. at first i wasnt sure if i was gonna like it, but after a couple of pages, I couldnt even put it down.. I finished this book in 4 days.. i cried with this book, i laughed with this booko, i felt like a character watching the events take place... awesome book a must read DSK
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw so many books written by Ken Follett, that my curiosity was stoked. I decided to begin reading books he had written and when I asked several people to suggest a favorite, every single person said "The Pillars of the Earth". I was not disappointed. This is one of the best books I have ever read and will now move on to many more Ken Follett works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Years ago I heard about this book. It sounded interesting but I never got around to reading it. It wasn't until a few years ago that I saw a commercial for a mini series based off the book. After watching, I knew I had to read this. I have read my share of books after seeing movies and know that there is so much more in the book. I started reading this a couple years ago but life got in the way. I restarted it not long ago and loved it. It is a long read and sometimes felt myself counting down the pages but having faces and voices to put to characters is something I enjoyed. The only thing the Nook version is missing from the physical book are the few pictures and drawings of the cathedral. It would have been nice to see those again. I highly recommend this book!
melancholyLP More than 1 year ago
I hated this book. Although, in all fairness, I only read 100 pages. I could not bring myself to go any further. The language is juvenile, the story not even believable. Set in the 12th century...hah! Not convincing by any means. I'm really surprised by all the praise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a true page turner so don't let the substantial page count put you off. The story and the history are both compelling. One warning though, there are graphic rape scenes sprinkled throughout the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me as a gift by a very dear friend. When I read the jacket, I politely said "thank you" and put it on my bookshelf, where the book remained for about 2 years. The topic (cathedral building) and the setting (1100's) and the length (900+ pages) told me this would NOT be an easy or short read. Then, while on vacation this summer, with nothing else to read in my house, I picked this up. I was skeptical that I would like it, but I began anyway. About 30 pages into it, I was completely hooked. It was riveting and interesting from the beginning, and I found myself staying up later and later each night because I just did not want to put it down. The characters are enjoyable, and their development is quite robust. Given that the book takes place over 50 years, I would have expected as much, but I honestly didn't think it could be done. I also could not fathom how this book could have a plot this complicated and long, while still being easy to understand and follow, but it absolutely did. I think my favorite thing about this book is that it is set in and amongst some actual histrocial events. The struggle of the royalty to gain and maintain power in England was a more than adequate backdrop for the plot, and the descriptions of the lifestyles of the different classes of people was enlightening. The difficulty of living life well, let alone surviving, was very well demonstrated and was definitely my favorite aspect of this book. The only thing that I found difficult with the book was some of the descriptions of the cathedral building process. Without pictures, Follett putting words around the building process was somewhat inadequate for me. I admit that I had to skim those sections. In short, this book was nothing I expected it to be. It was a complicated and juicy plot, with love & romance, politcal unrest, personal and political betrayals, and some of the most loving and human characters about which I have ever had the pleasure of reading.
TaraO More than 1 year ago
This is a great read, with an entertaining ensemble cast. While I would not go to Mr. Follett for a master class on writing, he gets the job done. This book is an enjoyable read and it's okay that the villains are unquestionably irredeemable. But it is of interest that the "heroes" of the book to not show the same one-dimensional character that the "bad guys" do. They have character flaws, make incredibly poor decisions, ruin themselves with bad choices, which only makes it more odd to see the book's main events moved forward by simplistic characters wreaking havoc. A long book, I would have expected to find myself skimming past unnecessary and wordy ramblings by the author, but the writing is surprisingly concise considering that if I were to toss the book at someone's head, I might severely injure them. The author's foreword(usually an unbearable addition to any book) made the book infinitely more enjoyable. I highly recommend, though I have never read anything else by Ken Follett, and I do not intend to add him to my list of favorite authors.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written is I simple and easy to follow style, this novel grants a unuque insight into medevil life, unfair family kingly politics and the trials and challenges of constructiing a grand cathedral. Fascinating and captivating story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A friend recommended this book - even knowing I do not care much for history. But I loved it! Even though it was 900 pages long I couldn't wait to finish it. Not good for people that need to sleep - I often read until 2 or 3 in the AM - couldn't put it down. A little to much sex and violence to make it a 5 star.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gripping and readable....from the very first word. "The young boys came early to the hanging."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! This is my first of Ken Follett's books. I am looking forward to reading many more. He is an excellent writer who kept my interest for over 800 pages!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is by far the best book I have ever read and it saddens me that a hand full of would be historians/English professors have disgraced the book by giving it only one star. To those who attack the book for its "modern" language, come on. Let's not over think it. This is by no means an academic novel but a story rich in content and overflowing with intrigue. Not to be analyzed or over thought but simply read for the joy of reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Richly developed characters living in England during the reign of King Steven. The author takes us on a journey of a lifetime with twists and turns that include life and death, good and evil, love and hate. You will never look at a cathedral again without thinking of this wonderful epic story.
lockedwall More than 1 year ago
This is the 4th time I have read this, 1st time on ereader! THE BEST book I have read in years, as with all Ken Follett books, they are very well written and an education in many ways. A must read for anyone who likes fiction, history, plots and sub-plots, mystery and entertainment!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could hardly put this book down. Great story and character development.
mittenk More than 1 year ago
The description of this book does not represent the actual book. I love architecture and history so the idea of this book was very appealing, along with the great reviews. However, the rhetoric is subpar (a fifth-grader could have easily written this book) and I felt as I was reading a trashy romance novel netted with a humdrum adventure book. Don't waste your time and money.
PaxAmour More than 1 year ago
Not only is it a good story with great character development, but it's also very informative. The author gives very clear images about how great cathedrals were built with few tools. It also gives insight into the governmental vs. the religious structure of England in the early years. It is a long book and takes time to read. Worth It!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When I initially read the description of this novel, I didn't think it was a genre I would be interested in. However, with the vast number of positive reviews, I decided to give it a try. I am so glad I did! The novel was very well written--quickly pulling me into the story. There were times I couldn't put down. I'm excited to read other books by this author.