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The Pillars of the Earth

Narrated by: John Lee
Series: The Kingsbridge Novels, Book 1
Length: 40 hrs and 55 mins
Categories: Fiction, Historical
4.5 out of 5 stars (26,813 ratings)

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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

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Couldn't Take My Buds Out

I thought, whew, 40 hours, but I really enjoyed it. One of those books that keeps you up late.
I liked the way the story moved. My only complaint was the repeaded rapes and the details of step by step sex, which, I personally find boring by most writers, I did >> a couple of times. I'm downloading the sequel now, so that tells the real tale. If you like family and political sagas, you won't be disappointed.

150 of 160 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Gina
  • Navarre, FL, USA
  • 07-25-09

Epic story to be read by all!

I downloaded this book based on a review by another person who said something about how they couldn't believe a book about a monk trying to build a cathedral could be so interesting. Well they were right!

I just skimmed over some of the reviews here after reading the book and I can't believe some of these people and I read the same book! I personally was never bored with any of the parts. Many times I sat in my car once I got to work, just to hear out the rest of the chapter. Ken Follet is a brilliant writer and really drew me into his characters. I even felt true hatred towards the villains - I would come in from my hour drive home work ranting to my husband how much I hated so and so.

Some reviews here talk about the book being vulgar, that is not true. There are some sexual encounters in this book (some the good kind and others terrible), but they add to the storyline. I personally felt it brought more realism to book, but did not feel like the author overdid the frequency of encounters like some other books do.

I'm traveling to England this month for the first time and thanks to this book I've altered my itinerary in order to visit some cathedrals. I want to marvel at the architecture and imagine the trials and tribulations the builders went through.

I love historical fiction and enjoyed how the author brought in real events (that I could look up) and gave the ordinary people of that time a voice. I could imagine how hard life really was for them and the life and death effects of the decisions and whims of the rulers. I have a better appreciation for their struggles.

The narrator did a fabulous job. Some narrators can ruin a book, but John Lee brought all those characters to life. Sometimes I'd forget it was the same man voicing every character.

I do wish the author had given his comments at the end of the book, not at the beginning. It gave away some of the plot.

246 of 264 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Chris Bish
  • Schenectady, New York United States
  • 12-28-07

Exceptional Book

The book is a compelling tapestry of colorful tales that together make the building of a cathedral whole cloth. The depiction of medieval life highlighted by the building of the cathedral is riveting and has stimulated me to read the books Follett mentions in the preface that he primarily used as the historical basis of his book.
The plot is never dull as one reader incredibly mentioned. It is loaded with adventure, history, love, cruelty, devotion, moral outrage, fealty; and has as many plot twists as a medieval cathedral has stones.
Other than being a great document about medieval life, Pillars of the Earth is a gripping work of literature.

36 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Joseph
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 01-09-10

Good historical setting, but loose story.

I read this when it came out, because I was a graduate student of medieval history at the time, and now I've heard it on audiobook. Some aspects of the work are very impressive, others are rather simplistic pop fiction, but overall it's a rewarding book, and the performance is impressive, considering how long John Lee has to keep your attention with his reading.

The aspect of the book I loved most was the setting and the technical details. It recreates a medieval world, from the economy of the villages to the politics of the monastery, with intricate and impressive detail on the building of the cathedral and the changing architectural styles and challenges. That alone is worth the listen.

The story--as he himself has described it--is a series of melodramas over a couple of generations, some of which take the whole book to develop, some of which are settled as they go, much like a Victor Hugo novel, but without the great writing and complex insight. The tales themselves sound more like 20th century dramas than medieval lives. There are few of the moral dilemmas medieval literature dwells on, and you could just drop the same stories into modern England without much change beyond clothing and settings. Add a few cell phones and IPods, and you're good to go.

Overall, I recommend it. Four stars, because I can't give three and a half. The setting is worth the listen, and the melodramas are emotionally engaging even if not very medieval. It's long pop fiction with a more sophisticated setting. If you want a modern novel in a well-researched medieval setting, this is it. If you want historical fiction that recreates the emotional and intellectual psyche of the time, this is not it. Try Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" for that, I guess.

162 of 175 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


This one sat in my wish list for a couple of months while I debated. The length did not bother me, that was why it ended up in my wish list to begin with ... but was not sure how interesting a story about 13 century cathedral building would be. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!! I have downloaded close to 200 books in the past year and this one and the following "World without End" also by Ken Follett, which I downloaded immediately after this one, are definitely in my top 10 faves. I agree with others that it is a bit heavy on the sex but it was still a wonderfully captivating adventure.

85 of 92 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great Story

I really enjoyed this story. The characters are rich, you are given a full range of people who could be literary "good-guys" or "bad-guys". Their choices are interesting and the plot is full of turns and even suspense. I would have given this book five starts except a few things bothered me. First the author used quite a bit of foul language in the characters speech. If you are not bothered by four letter words you probably wont notice and enjoy the book just fine. Secondly, to make the antagonist even more sinister the author included several rape scenes with the antagonist enjoying his cruelty. The imaging was disturbing and again, if you are not sensitive to these kinds of scenes it wont be a problem. Over all the story was fantastic and a really interesting read. The book is very long and satisfying. I thought I would get bored but it was great. The reader also does a great job of bringing the different characters to life with different voices.

73 of 79 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


I picked this book purely based on other peoples reviews, its really not the kind of thing that I am into but it was FANTASTIC! The narration is perfect, the story lines were a pleasure to follow. I was addicted to the book from the introduction onward, truly amazing.

39 of 42 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Errr, uhhh!

Most of the forty hours I spent listening to this book I amused myself by planning what I would say about it. It wasn't bad enough to stop, but it's a bit of a slog. The characters are moderately interesting and there's some history, but it's a soap opera - good guys and bad guys duking it out - over and over and over. I kept thinking, "enough already!". Truly, it's one struggle after another, some graphic and disturbing violence. The prose was basic, the story only moderately interesting and very repetitive (ie. the bad guy raped and pillaged his way through the book which got old), and the end didn't ring my cathedral bells. Kind of a set up for the next long book. The one stellar fact is that the narration is outstanding.

38 of 42 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

31 of 35 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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!!!

28 of 32 people found this review helpful