Middle Ages: Masons, Monks & Monarchs

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Release Date: February 2002
Publisher: Penguin | Signet
Pages: 976 pages
Series: The Pillars of the Earth #1
Source & Format: Bought; Kindle ebook & Audiobook

Summary (from Goodreads)
This book tells the 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 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-crated 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."

Thoughts on The Pillars of the Earth
This is one intimidating book. Clocking in at almost 1,000 pages, you practically hurt your wrist just picking it up. And it's about monks and the building of a cathedral. Doesn't that just sound kind of boring? Good thing it's not!

This has more drama and action than I ever imagined! Set during the twelfth century, it spans more than 50 years and takes you across three countries. At the center of the book is Prior Philip, a monk who wants to restore the community's faith by building a cathedral for the ages. 

I had no idea what it took to build a cathedral. I knew it was a big undertaking, but I really didn't fully understand how much work was involved. It definitely gives you a deep appreciation for the architecture of the Middle Ages.

If the cathedral is the star of the book, the characters are its backbone. There were so many characters, but they were all so developed. They had personalities, desires, motivations, fears... And they really made the book such an addicting read!

For example, I got felt physically sick at one point because of William Hamleigh. He was selfish and evil, and it made my blood boil whenever he'd enter the page. I don't think I've ever hated a villain so much, but you have to admire an author you makes so invested in his characters. 

It's certainly long, but it's the kind of novel that makes you want to read one more chapter before you put it down. Is it kind of soap opera-y? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a compelling read!

I also need to praise the audiobook. I actually alternated between the audio and print. I loved the narrator, and I just wanted to keep listening to his voice. There were a few times that I took the longer way home or ran just one more errand so that I didn't have to stop. He made the story come alive, and I'm so glad I got to experience the audio version instead of just reading. I did still read it - mostly because I wanted to keep reading, even when I wasn't in the car.

Despite its length, I was swept away by this book. It was a good reminder that I should never put off reading a book that's calling my name - even if it's a whopper of a read.

So Quotable
"He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offense; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus. That's what the Pharisees were like, Philip thought; no wonder the Lord preferred to eat with publicans and sinners."


  1. I've had this book on my shelf for over a year now, but I am so intimidated by it's size! I'm glad to hear it's worth the investment though. I like the idea of alternating reading it with listening to it!

    1. It's definitely worth the investment! Once you get into it, it really moves quickly. I was caught up in the story and genuinely wanted to pick it up to find out what happened next. And yes, the alternating book and audio worked really well. I'd definitely recommend it!

  2. Oh I want to read this one so much! I LOVE that you switched between audio and print (ebook) because that is how I like to read so much of the time, especially with the chunksters or re-reads.

    Sidenote: I thought I was AWESOME and so lucky when I found the second book at Goodwill for only $1.50 in hardback! Then I got home and looked at Goodreads and realized it was the second book. So I need to go back and grab the first book so I can start this series. It's one I really want to read. Perhaps I'll do the audio as well, since you mention it is really great.

    Thanks for this review and for mentioning the audio!!

    1. I love switching between the two. Have you tried the new Whispersync for Audio thing that works with your Kindle and Audible? It makes switching between the two so easy! I think the Kindle ebook was like $7, which I thought was a great price (especially for such a thick book!).

    2. You know, it's funny, I've bought books that are priced on sale and Whispersync-ready, but I haven't used it yet. I grabbed something like twenty classics and their audios for free when they launched the Whispersync but I haven't listened to any of them yet, but I have been looking at them lately and thinking on maybe checking one of them out. I agree that $7 is pretty good for a chunkster like this book. Hmm...


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