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  • The Pillars of the Earth

  • Kingsbridge, Book 1
  • By: Ken Follett
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 40 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (5,883 ratings)

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The Pillars of the Earth cover art

The Pillars of the Earth

By: Ken Follett
Narrated by: John Lee
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Editor reviews

Award-winning novelist Ken Follett is at his most magnificent in Pillars of the Earth, Book 1 of the trilogy series by the same name, narrated by professional voice artist John Lee. This incredible book has been voted in the top 100 of Britain’s Best Loved Books in the BBC The Big Read. The scope of detail in this audiobook is unparalleled. Its intricate plot is weaved with history, religion, politics, love and dishonour. It is an all-encompassing saga, delicately capturing the very core of existence in 12th-century England. Available now from Audible.

Summary

An epic, spellbinding tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follett's historical masterpiece.

A Mason with a Dream

It is 1135 and civil war, famine and religious strife abound. With his family on the verge of starvation, mason Tom Builder dreams of the day that he can use his talents to create and build a cathedral like no other.

A Monk with a Burning Mission

Philip is the church prior of Kingsbridge. A resourceful man, he knows that if his town is to survive at all, it must find a way to truly thrive. He decides, then, to build Kingsbridge the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

A World of High Ideals and Savage Cruelty

As the prior recruits his mason, so begins a journey of ambition, anarchy and the struggle for absolute power. Facing enemies that would thwart them, they will stop at nothing to fulfil their grand plans of Kingsbridge. Soon build tensions between good and evil, turning church against state, and brother against brother . . .

The Pillars of the Earth is the first in The Kingsbridge Novels series, followed by World Without End and A Column of Fire.

©1989 Ken Follett (P)2007 Penguin Randomhouse LLC

Critic reviews

"Enormous and brilliant...this mammoth tale seems to touch all human emotion - love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair. This is truly a novel to get lost in." (Cosmopolitan)

"A historical saga of such breadth and density.... Follett succeeds brilliantly in combining hugeness and detail to create a novel imbued with the rawness, violence and blind faith of the era." (Sunday Express)

What listeners say about The Pillars of the Earth

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

The Pillars of the Earth

Watching the current TV series is rather like reading the abridged version of this epic tale which is the only version that was hitherto available in the UK. One of the things that really draws you into this tale is the vast array of interesting characters and the depth of their characterisation. Enjoy the minutae of their everyday lives, the way that people ate, slept, worked and were beholden to their Lords & Masters in the 12th century. Historical facts like the English civil war and battles fought in 1142 are interwoven with everyday tales of love, hate, treachery and corruption. Absolutely compelling listening and despite the length, I was dissapointed when I finally came to the end.

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86 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Better than the TV series

I know its a cliche, but i would strongly advise anyone who watched and enjoyed the TV series to listen to this unabridged version of the book. While i thought the series was excellent, it does contain some alterations to the original story. The story contained in the book hangs together much better. It is also more historically accurate. For example Stephen was not captured at the same time as Gloucester. The book more accurately represents Stephens weak character and his reluctance to take on the Earls- which doesn't come across in the TV version.
It is a story which you do not want to end. Moreover, the ending is not obvious- just when you think everything is sorted the book has another twist in stall. The characters in the book are very realistic, while William and the bishop are more evil than appears on the tv version.
Beware the book is much more graphic than the series- some pretty sexually explicit scenes- not for children to hear! Although this is not arbitrary, it adds real sense to lawlessnes of the society during this war and immorality of those given power.

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53 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Medieval soap opera

I downloaded this book having been impressed by the first two parts of the author’s Century Trilogy. These latter books illuminated the impacts of the First and Second World Wars by creating fictional characters whose lives are played out against the backdrop of world affaires. I had hoped that Pillars of the Earth would do the same for 12th century history and the turbulent time of the civil war caused by King Stephen and Queen Maud both claiming the throne of England. Pillars isn’t in the same class as the Century books. The historical content is subservient to a medieval melodrama of baddies versus goodies with little subtlety in characterisation. A saintly Prior is trying to get a cathedral built but is perpetually thwarted by a dastardly knight and corrupt bishop. It’s a story of repeated crises where the Prior’s hopes are dashed only in the end to get the better of his adversaries. The book reminds me of dark fairy stories where a monster lives on the outskirts of a town and requires repeated sacrifices by the villagers to ward off an attack but in the end good triumphs over evil. There is an interesting story buried in this book but there are just too many similar scenarios. Somewhat incongruously there are repeated sex scenes that seem more like soft porn than real life. I felt that rape scenes were too lasciviously described than necessary and the sheer number of references to large breasts that are salivated over, fondled and pinched became risible!
The reader is excellent and contributed to me carrying on with this very long book. Had I been reading it I would have given up but, as I use audio books as company on walks and while doing household chores, I soldiered on.

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51 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Thank the Lord its over!!

I know its a failing in me. If I've invested in a book I have to see it through to the end, and this one required rather more teeth-gritting than is entirely healthy.
I love well-written historical fiction (see Patrick O'Brien) but this was the most unbelievable tosh.
Bernard Cornwell on a bad day making an unholy tryst with Dame Barbara Cartland and a very VERY sub-standard D.H.Lawrence.
Another reviewer refers to the two-dimensional nature of the characters: this is an exaggeration... all the characters are barely one-dimensional, there is little or no psychological development(astonishing considering the time-scale covered by this novel) and they are all either unbelievably good or unremmitingly bad.
I gave a star for the reading and a couple of stars for the descriptions of the Cathedral-building, but then I remembered those endless, passionless, colourless, distincly unerotic,cold, clincal sex scenes, and knocked a star off! You can see them coming a mile off, the bells clang, the sirens sound, the hooters blare (no pun intended) and you know you're in for a very trying 20 minutes indeed!
If a reader is really interested in the Early English Cathedral as a literary journey, may I strongly recommend William Golding's 'The Spire': rather more challenging and rather less a Medieval East Enders.
Save yourself almost 2 days (I can't believe that) and pass this one by!

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45 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

This is a special book

I delayed reading this - it just looked dull/unappealing. Boy was I wrong.
42 hours of listening pleasure! It's got everything - intrigue, humour, well developed characters, great plot.

According to Ken Follett himself, this is a book which has grown in popularity with time, and by word of mouth - and you can see why.

If you enjoy full, detailed, and well constructed epics, then treat yourself with this. It's not hard going despite it's length.

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32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fabulous book

Ken Follett's ability to keep his readers interested in long novels is wonderful - this is epic Follett, wide ranging, believable characters, he gives a real sense of history. This kept me entertained through ironing, mucking out the horses and driving to work! The second time I listened to it was as good as the first - there were bits I hadn't really taken in. A great listen.

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32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Simply the Best

This is, quite frankly, the best book I've ever read - and I've read a fair few in my time. 'Pillars' is an epic, in the true context of the word, and despite its length I was disappointed when it ended. It is a tale of good versus evil over the period of the lifetime of the main protagonists; the characters grew from young people into adults and then into old people, and the development of these characters was superb. The evil, as opposed to the merely unpleasant, characters were deepened with graphic descriptions of their acts; some of these made me feel extremely uncomfortable at the time, but with hindsight were an excellent way of moving the plot along and developing the characters at the same time. It should be remebered that the backdrop is 12th century England, and such barbarity was not uncommon at that time. The narration was also excellent, and made each twist and turn of the plot line come alive. I don't often recommend books as reading is a very personal thing, but I can recommend this to anybody, and the length should not deter anybody.

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28 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

FAULTY audiobook: there is a vital chapter missing

Anyone who has read the print version of the book will realise on listening that this audiofile is faulty. There is at least one chapter missing which contains an absolutely pivotal point in the plot; this has been ommitted from the audiobook in error.

In the written book, this huge and important event is covered in detail but it's totally missing from the audiobook which is obviously an error. The most significant event in the book is completely missing! No wonder some of the reviews are confused - if you've read the print version, the story makes far more sense. I have deleted the book from my phone and re-downloaded it but the fault is still there. Unbelieveable that this fault has been left uncorrected for ten years by Audible. The same issue has occurred on other books and they don't ever get fixed either. Atrocious file management by Audible. Recommend reading the print version of this book in order to get the FULL story.

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25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Audible issue - Chapter Missing!!

This book is so brilliant, this is my 3rd time listening to it!
BUT this time there is a whole chapter missing! Where has it gone Audible???
Chapter 10:6? It’s an important chapter!
This is my favourite book Audible, please put it back!!!

I’ve had to mark the overall score down for this... but will review when it’s fixed.

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18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Ripping yarn

This is a humdinger of a story.
I don't think that its the greatest literature, occasionally the plot took barely credible detours so that lose ends could be tied up, and I wasn't wild about the narrator. But I whisked thru the huge book in a few weeks and couldn't wait to hear the end.
If you like historical fiction you won't be disappointed.

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14 people found this helpful