The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge Series #1)

The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge Series #1)


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Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time—the twelfth century; the place—feudal England; and the subject—the building of a glorious cathedral. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters—into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

At once a sensuous and endearing love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett's masterpiece.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688046590
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/28/2007
Series: Kingsbridge Series , #1
Pages: 973
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.30(d)

About the Author

Ken Follett's career as a bestselling author has spanned more than three decades. He is the author of numerous immensely popular books, including Eye of the Needle, Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man From St. Petersburg, On Wings of Eagles, Lie Down With Lions, The Pillars of the Earth, A Dangerous Fortune, The Third Twin, The Hammer of Eden, and World Without End. He lives in England with his wife, Barbara Follett, a British M.P.


Hertfordshire, England

Date of Birth:

June 5, 1949

Place of Birth:

Cardiff, Wales


B.A. in Philosophy, University College, London, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Excerpted from "The Pillars of the Earth"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Ken Follett.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Enormous and brilliant …a great epic tale…crammed with characters unbelievably alive across the great gulf of centuries…touches all human emotion—love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair.  See for yourself.  This is truly a novel to get lost in.”—Cosmopolitan
“Wonderful…will hold you, fascinate you, surround you.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“An extraordinary epic buttressed by suspense…a monumental masterpiece…A towering triumph from a major talent.”—Booklist
“A seesaw of tension….A novel that entertains, instructs, and satisfies on a grand scale” —Publishers Weekly

Reading Group Guide

A spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known...of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect-a man divided in his soul...of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame...and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.


Ken Follett is the author of seventeen bestsellers, from the groundbreaking Eye of the Needle, and is one of the world's most popular novelists. He has sold approximately 90 million books. He lives in England with his wife, Barbara.

  • Ken Follett has said: "When I started to look at cathedrals, I wondered: Who built them, and why? The book is my answer to that question." Why do you think the great medieval cathedrals were built?
    Some things to think about:
    How does the building of the cathedral satisfy the ambitions of the main characters – Tom Builder, Prior Philip, Aliena and Jack? How does it affect the lives of other important characters in the story?
  • Read the first scene in Chapter 10 and think about the prose style. Why do you think the author writes this way? Compare the last scene of the same chapter.
    Some things to think about:
    The number of words of one syllable; the length of sentences; the length of paragraphs; the adjectives used. What is different about the author's purpose in these two scenes?
  • Although The Pillars of the Earth is fiction, it includes some real-life characters and incidents from history, such as King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln, and the murder of Thomas Becket. Why does the author mix fact and fiction like this?
    Some things to think about:
    Are the factual scenes told from the point of view of the real-life characters, or the fictional ones? Are the fictional characters major or minor players in the big historical events of the time?
  • Women were second-class citizens in medieval society and the church. Is this accurately reflected in The Pillars of the Earth?
    Some things to think about:
    What attitudes to women are shown by Prior Philip and William Hamleigh? How do Agnes, Ellen and Aliena respond to society's expectations?
  • Some readers have said that they look at medieval churches with new eyes after reading The Pillars of the Earth. Do you think you will do the same?
    Some things to think about:
    In the book, churches are usually viewed through the eyes of a builder. How does this affect your understanding of the architecture?
  • Ken Follett has said: "I'm not a very spiritual person. I'm more interested in the material problems of building a cathedral." Is The Pillars of the Earth a spiritual book?
    Some things to think about:
    What motivates Prior Philip? What does Tom say at the beginning of Chapter 5, when Philip asks him why he wants to be master builder? In Chapter 16, why does Philip ask Remigius to come back to the priory?
    (Reading Group Guide credit: Ken Follet's official web site)
  • Customer Reviews

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    The Pillars Of The Earth (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2757 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.
    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
    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.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It is a thick book, but it goes fast. Good for a rainy day.
    Warning - language, sex
    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.
    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 was the first book of his that I have read and I absolutely loved it! At first I was skeptical because of the length of the book, however, I feel as though it could have gone on for another 900 pages and I would have still been as engaged. I cannot wait to read his other books!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Very well done.
    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!
    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.
    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.
    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
    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.
    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.