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Publisher's Summary

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.

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of 12th-century England, this is Ken Follett's historical masterpiece.

©1989 Ken Follett; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Follett is a master." (The Washington Post)
"A historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Scott
  • culver City, CA, USA
  • 12-08-07


Follet's preface, about how he'd come to write this novel, had me hooked. His effort, research and honesty propelled me into his novel with enthusiasm. The reader, John Lee, does a superb job. His tone is rich, full of a multitude of vocal inflections that carry ones imagination deeply into this historical adventure. And like a great actor he never shines so brightly on the material that his 'acting' takes precedence over the reading. I can't wait to get the sequel. One thousand cheers to Mr Follet for having ventured into terrain so different from his home.
scott stambler. real name.

28 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Ryan
  • Ithaca, NY, USA
  • 12-28-08

Hands down, the very best!!!

Normally I don't really read anything involving organised religion. However, My friend insisted that I read this book. I am so glad that I listened to her. This is the best book that I have ever read. Follett uses such vivid imagery when describing everything, that I feel as if I am walking down the road with Tom Builder and his starving family. He keeps you guessing just long enough so that you can not put the book down untill you've found out what the scheme is. I found myself wishing that I could reach into the book and help the protagonists, and hurt the antagonist myself. I recomend this book to anyone who enjoys immersing oneself in a book so completely, that you think about it all day untill you can get back to reading it. You find yourself trying to come up with solutions to the problems facing the characters. This book is a must read!!! It's completely immersive, you may just feel the rumbling of the ground as the horses gallop by!!!

26 of 30 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Marc
  • St. Louis, MO, United States
  • 11-27-07

Delightful characters & virtual Medieval England!

Five stars - An exception work of fiction. Compelling story and virtual tour of 13th century England. Follett really delivers with this masterpiece. My first review after more than 200 downloads. Don’t be put off by the length. You will be wishing it were even longer. Am ready to tackle World Without End next.

36 of 42 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Very surprised

The difference between reading a paper book and listening to an Audible title was brought home to me when I listened to this book.

Years ago, before I joined Audible, I read this book in its paper format and remember telling myself that Ken Follett should stick to World War II spy stories because this book was just boring.

When I saw it available on Audible I had no desire to listen to it, but finally, after seeing all the praise, I relented and bought it. The one good thing was that I was so bored with the paper book that I remembered nothing of the story line. Listening to it was a revelation. How I could have been bored by such an interesting story with such interesting characters still baffles me, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening and expect to order the sequel. The only negative thing I can say is that the characterization of William as such a thoroughly evil man seemed a bit overdone. Each subsequent villainous act seemed unnecessary and some were difficult for me to listen to.

I still continue to be amazed at how differently I view the physical book and the Audible version. Perhaps it was because of the wonderful job that John Lee did in narrating the book, or perhaps I was just not in the proper frame of mind of a large scope book like this when I originally read it, but this is a wonderful book and I recommend it without reservation.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story


This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Someone less offened by the heavy-handed use of female characters.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Zorba the Greek

Have you listened to any of John Lee’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not listened to any, but I thought the performance was excellent. I would be happy to listen to him again.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Pillars of the Earth?

I thought that the many rape scenes became both more gratitious and unecessary as the book progressed. It seemed the Follett came to rely on rape as a literary device whenever the plots began to dwindel. I found it dissapointing, as in many ways the book was quite interesting; however I think his havy handed use of rape to move the plot along became both offensive and tiersome--espechially in a novel centered on the building of a church.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Shaddi
  • Laguna Niguel, CA, United States
  • 01-31-08

Great Listen except...

I really enjoyed listening to this book and found John Lee's performance to be engaging (as always). Great plot and i would have given it 5 stars except that there are many very explicit rape scenes in this book which were quite disturbing. The first two had a point but the rest were unnecessary in my opinion--I started to wonder if the author had a hidden facination with sexual violence because the rest of the violence in the book were not as explicit. If explicit rape scenes bother you, I wouldn't recommend this book (which is unfortunate because the rest of it is quite good).

48 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Altenative title suggestions:

How to Clean the Attic in 40 Hours


If You're Not Getting Any, Here's Some

I came to Pillars directly from 2 Michael Chabon books, (Gentlemen of the Road, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), and had Chabon's high-tone and fun stories winging through my mind. His writing has made my ear overly sensitive to the dissonant clang of Follet's script-like conversations and arms length approach to emotion (16 year old girl knifes an outlaw on the road to save herself and brother. Brother later says, "you're awfully grumpy." Brilliant).

After the first of the violent rapes I figured Follet got "that" out of his system. But he never did. He rounded out the entire 40 hours with rapes and seductions of every buxom, curly haired brunette in the book. If you're a middle class white guy, you'll need a cigarette about every 2 chapters.

The story itself was good enough. The Euclidean math and mason work and a general sense of medieval England and hierarchy of the Catholic Church was worth reading through.

All the unfinished business getting wrapped up with a bow on top by the end gave a Hollywood feel to it.

In the end, it was a good distraction for cleaning out the attic but I won't be recommending it to anyone looking for a "great" read.

30 of 36 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Not what I'd expected

I was searching on Amazon for good historical novels and found this continually referenced. Due to that and its sequel World Without End being on sale, I decided to get both. Ken Follett primarily writes "beach read thrillers" as I call them. While his are revered among those books, that isn't my preferred genre but this book was supposed to be great historical fiction. This book wasn't far above a beach thriller in a historical setting. While the story line was interesting and I found myself drawn in by the characters, much of the story didn't match its setting. Many plot twists and characters seemed more suited to the 21st century than the 12th, as if forcing the story into a historical context somehow made it more intellectual. There were also several plots twists I saw coming from miles away, and had to wait until the book revealed them 2 hours later. Due to all the praise this book received, I was expecting something more thought provoking and memorable. Pillars of the Earth was decent enough for me to listen to the sequel; however if I hadn't already purchased it, I'm not sure I would be.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Karen
  • Washington, DC, United States
  • 02-12-09

Don't give up . . . outstanding

While I'm not a huge Oprah fan (I don't think I've ever watched her show), the Oprah's book club isn't a bad place to start when looking for good novels to read (or listen to). As dull as the description of this one sounded (I'm really not into historical dramas), I gave it a chance mostly because of the Oprah recommendation AND because it was ridiculously long (at 40 hours). I have become addicted to audiobooks (the longer the better) because of a very long commute. I admit this is a slow start one--a little too much background to cover before the real story can begin--but don't give up. A few hours in, you are HOOKED. This is the kind of audiobook that you arrive at your destination and sit in the car a little while because you just CAN'T turn it off. Historically accurate (although with definite dramatic license), occasionally uncomfortably graphic and sexual for some tastes, but very, very good character development. You get to KNOW these people, and care deeply about then.

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Not bad at all.

At nearly 41 hours in length a book about monks building a cathedral seems very daunting and a huge gamble to spend a credit on. Plus, several years ago I tried listening to an audio book by Ken Follett (I can't remember which one or even what it was about) and I couldn't get into it and gave up about a quarter of the way through it. So, The Pillars of the Earth spent a lot of time on my wish list before I gave it a chance.

What kept me from deleting it from the wish list and finally breaking down and buying it is two fold; 1) it got great reviews on audible, and 2) I've always been intrigued by the idea of monastic life. I know it sounds silly, but I often daydream about what it might be like to spend all day everyday praying and studying and gardening and meditating without the worries and rigors of modern life.

This was a long book, but the story covers four decades in the characters lives and there are not a whole lot of really big jumps in time. It is about the building of the Kingsbridge Cathedral, but there's a lot more to it than that. There's wars and famines and people struggling to gain and keep power. There's relationships that intertwine in strange ways, and there's a lot of sex.

This brings me to my first criticism...

Now, I'm not a prude. I don't mind graphic sex scenes if they're done right and make the characters seem more real and interesting. However, in this book there are a lot of sex scenes and they don't always seem necessary. In fact, a few of them made me uncomfortable. I'm not talking about the rape scenes either. There are several of those too, but they make the villainous people seem more evil, and lay the groundwork for the motivations of the victims. It's the needlessly graphic sex that permeates a large portion of the book that had me rolling my eyes.

All in all this is a solid four star book with five star narration. It was very long and I may need to take a break before trying the sequel, but I probably will in a few months.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful