Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Series: The Pillars Of The Earth #1
Published by Penguin on 2010-06-29
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers
Pages: 992
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon

View our Ken Follett feature page. Learn more about The Pillars of the Earth miniseries on Starz. 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

I don’t know why I’m always so hesitant to read large adult books, especially when I feel them calling to me. I had been wanting to read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett for the longest time. As a medieval history nerd (3 college courses on that!), a book about building a cathedral in the 12th century just appealed to me. Also the fact that there are monks, I like monks. However, I kept putting Pillars off, instead picking up lighter tomes. As many of you know, I sort of had a recent break-through, where I said, fuck it. I will read what I want. So, I took about two weeks and read Pillars.

Good call, self. I was completely engaged by The Pillars Of The Earth. There’s a huge cast of characters, intertwined stories, and it all pieces together quite well in the end. The book opens with ‘The small boys came early to the hanging.’ Honestly, with a line like that, I was powerless to resist in favor of smaller books. What ensues is political intrigue spanning around 40 years, give or take a few. People battling over quarry rights, an earldom, positions in the church. I LOVED IT. I mean, here’s the thing. This book is not Tolstoy, Dickens, or Austen. But it is sweeping and I found it so easy to lose myself in.

What I found fascinating were the character studies, especially the contrast between the two men of the cloth, Prior Philip and Bishop Waleran. Philip is incorruptible. He’s incredibly intelligent and maintains dignity and faith while maneouvering through the political waters. Waleran, on the other hand, is a bit Machiavellian. He believes the ends justify the means. While he still is a man of faith, he uses his power to achieve his own ends.

Then, we have the contrast between Jack Jackson and Alfred Builder. But, I should probably give you a bit of background on these characters first. Mmm k, so Alfred’s father is Tom the Builder who dreams of one day building a cathedral because it will be beautiful. Tom also has a daughter, Martha. Anyways, as fate will have it, Jack has a mother named Ellen, who hates the church. Ellen and Tom hook up. Jack becomes a bit of a stepson to Tom. Alfred is a mean bully to both Jack and Martha. We see Alfred who is smart, but full of hate and lacking in real brilliance. Then we see Jack who lack social graces, but is a bit of a genuis. Anyways, sibling rivalries ensue.

AND the female characters in The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett. They are baller. From evil Regan Hamleigh to the kind and beautiful Aliena, to otherworldly Ellen. I liked that ladies is pimps too. Or, what I mean to say, is that ladies can take a central role as well.

Unfortunately, there is a LOT of sexual violence in this book. That can be triggering if you are a victim of sexual assault. I mean, I get that medieval attitudes towards rape are slightly different than modern attitudes. I wasn’t a fan of reading the rape scenes, or the rape fantasies of a certain William evil Hamleigh, but those scenes only took a page or two, and it didn’t draw me out of the story.

When you find yourself snowed in, and looking for something to get swept away with, I absolutely recommend Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

Other Reviews:

Bibliophile By The Sea
A Striped Armchair
The Avid Reader’s Musings
The Broke And The Bookish

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. I love this book! The weird thing I have disliked all the books by this author but The Pillars of the Earth is now one of my favorites. Glad you liked it!

  2. I heard this book is amazing, but really intense. Your review was so awesome and insightful, April! Thanks for letting me know more about the story!

  3. This is another book that I LOVED!!! It’s just so solid and good.. Like pillars of the earth! I was amazed at how everything panned out.

  4. I absolutely love this book! I read it about 20 years ago and just recently downloaded the audio version so I could experience it again.

  5. I’m so glad you loved this one too! The characters, the sheer length of time it covers, the great women characters, the monks, what’s not to love!

  6. I’m glad you really liked it – now go and see the perfection of the Waleran casting from the C4 adaptation.

    World Without End (the alleged sequel) is a much easier read and only loosely a sequel really

    • I am watching the miniseries! I think they did great with Waleran and Jack. Tom and Ellen and Aliena, I’m reserving my judgement on. (I want Aliena to have a mass of curly hair like the book, but her’s is straight in the adaptation).

      I do have WWE on my TBR, can’t wait to get to it.

  7. Thanks for the review. Good to hear what I have to look forward to. 🙂 I have this on my tbr shelf and it’s a book I’ve always been curious about.

  8. You are braver than I! I’ve looked at it and thought *maybe* but alas, I have yet to read it.

    I do like how you mentioned the female characters! I’m not put off by sexual violence, especially since this has a historical context, so I appreciate you warning against that.

    And that is a killer opening line.

    Laughing forever at “the ladies is baller.”

  9. I read this many years ago and I absolutely LOVED it! I love Medieval history too and I really wanted a degree in Medieval studies. It was very interesting to see all the politics involved.

  10. I am absolutely in the same boat you were. I was given Pillars of the Earth by my parents in high school (!!!!), and they said it was one of their favorites. It’s travelled to more than a dozen countries, several states, and many many apartments with me in the six years since. Currently, it’s sitting front and center on my bookshelf. And yet, it’s pure SIZE overwhelms me so much that I have yet to crack it open.

    New goal: I will finish it before Labour Day this year. I feel like posting that here binds me to do it…