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  • The Pillars of the Earth

  • The Kingsbridge Novels, Book 1
  • Written by: Ken Follett
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 40 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (74 ratings)

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The Pillars of the Earth

Written by: Ken Follett
Narrated by: John Lee
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Publisher's Summary

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 classic historical masterpiece. 

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. 

The Pillars of the Earth is followed by World Without End and A Column of Fire

©1989 Ken Follett (P)2007 Penguin Randomhouse LLC

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.

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

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I've ever read

I don't usually review a book, but this book...
It will make you happy, anxious and sad all in the same moment, it is absolutely brilliant.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Intriguing story outlining historical events.

john lee, the narrator ,brings realism to the story which can be vividly picturised due to his unique style of altering his accent and pitch depending on who is speaking . Brilliant.

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  • Dk
  • 07-04-22

Captivating. Couldn't put it down

One of the best narrated books. Wow story! Someone referred this book to me, maybe because of my interest in natural buildings or in learning methods. Loved it from both perspectives.
During my history classes, Barons, knights were just confusing words to me. After listening to this, now I understand England's historical context much better. It so beautifully captured the power struggles of the era, as well as the corruption of the church.
Loved every bit of it. Nail biting story line. John Lee's narration is really really good.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Take a bow Ken Follet

This novel is a masterpiece, masterclass in how to write a novel. Ken Follet uses the concept of vantage point to such good use that this novel should be used to taught story writing. Epic that the novel is, it uses the concept of vantage point to make the reader/listener empathize and get behind the motives of all the main character. This keeps the reader engaged while the story shifts being told from different perspectives of different characters as well as doesn't let the reader lose connection while the novel traverses the events of a particular characters life. A very satisfactory novel. Great character arcs. Great sense of justice with the end calling back to the prologue. John Lee does deserved justice to the epic tale and makes you feel the emotions, the pain, the excitement and the fear of the characters. Highly recommended.

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Good book!

one chapter is missing. Other than that it was an excellent read! Listen I Meant!

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    5 out of 5 stars

Very satisfying

What a sprawling epic. Amazing charecters. It is a tale of good over evil, but the way it is told is phenomenal.

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No wonder it is a block buster!!

Simply loved listening to it. John Lee has done a fabulous job. With voice modulation and expressions I could actually visualize the story and its characters. Ken Follett has a unique style of writing. Very gripping. Was a little sad that e book came to an end!

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Enticing all the way through

Its gripping.. Keeps you on your toes. Every point is connected properly. The descriptive parts are also engaging. Recommending it to all

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Loved it all....

This was a great pleasure to listen too.. The story flowed and became a part of my life. kept me coming back for more.

It was a long story, but the details and play of story spanning generations was all worth it.. The details keeping you feeling that you have been part of history, witnessing it all... The horror and the triumphs... Thanks to @Ken Follett

And well read, making it feel like it was a scene going on right in front on your eyes... The reading was big part of it all... Thanks to @John Lee

It will definitely be somthing that will stay with me all my life...

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The pillars of the earth.

superb novel. Riveting to the end. Excellent chronicle of the period it portrays. The characters come alive.

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  • Alan
  • 02-10-11

Very very surprised

I am usually a fan of thriller type books and have listened to authors like Charlaine Harris and Nelson Demille, who I rate very highly.... I drive roadtrains for 12 hour shifts so like going for longer type books, and saw this book was 41 hours long and had seen a good review for it...so I got it with my credit for the month since it cost a little more. I thought there was a good chance it was going to be a mistake... I mean set in the 12th century about building of a cathedral, haha, i am not religious or much of a history buff....
Well all I can say is "This is one of the best books I have listened to since joining audible.com and I have listened to heaps"... Totally engrossed in it from the first 30 pages and it never stopped..... Get it and listen to it you won't be dissapointed whether you are a harley riding dude or a chick working in a lawyers office, you won't regret it.....

24 people found this helpful

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  • Miss Annie Jones
  • 07-04-12

Modern tripe

What disappointed you about The Pillars of the Earth?

The predictable one-dimensional characters, the predictable and unneccessary laciviousness, the lack of authenticity and the predictability.

What could Ken Follett have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Not written it.

Did John Lee do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

Yes, except his Welsh accent was all wrong (I'm from North Wales, we don't speak like extras from Gavin and Stacey, we don't call our fathers 'Da' - hate it when the whole of Wales is charicatured as South Wales - we're far more lyrical up here - Bryn Terfel, Rhys Ifans - listen to their accents).

What character would you cut from The Pillars of the Earth?

All but Aliona and Tom Builder.

Any additional comments?

I was so looking forward to listening to this, I love historical fiction, but there was nothing here which immersed me in the past, it was a modern story coincidentally set in 10th Century, with modern language, modern characters and modern sensibilities. It was beyond bad, really. I stuck with it until about three-quarters of the way through (admittedly, I increased the speed on my iPod to get through it more quickly) but the nastiness of the characters, the predictable way they acted, the vicarious pleasure Mr Follet seemed to take in the depravity shown towards women, it angered me and made my skin crawl. I abandoned the listen without regret.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Janine
  • 02-01-11

As good the second time around...

I read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth when it was published in 1989 - and the epic is no less engaging the second time around. Follett has woven in all the elements of a top notch tale - good, evil, justice, injustice, ambition, greed, redemption... The addition of Follett's preface adds insights into the creation of the novel and his transition from thrillers to the much more complex structure and story of Pillars.

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Hilary
  • 10-01-12

A time when "God and his saints slept........"

In " The Pillars of the Earth", as shown through the lives of widely differing characters, Ken Follett has painted an outstanding picture of the appalling chaos, poverty and starvation prevalent in England during the nine years when Stephen and Matilda were rampaging around the country fighting for the crown.

The general breakdown of any justice or law and the perpetual uncertainty and brutality of life is very clearly shown. Those in authority changed so often that the general populace had no idea who would be their next harsh and demanding masters. The devious political intrigues between and within both church and state, fuelled by greed, spite and lust for power are well portrayed. Be prepared for many graphic descriptions of extreme and cruel violence. It is certainly typical of the times but you can skip in a book, harder with an ipod!

Woven into the tale and central to the theme are clear, understandable explanations and descriptions of the actual planning, building and methods used in 12th century England to build a cathedral. Such majestic and spectacular results were achieved with rudimentary methods and simple tools we can only be awed and the trials and triumphs of the Kingsbridge builders felt personal.

Recommended as an amazing book with so much of various interest and narrated superbly by John Lee.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • 13-11-10

At lomg last... the unabridged version

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is a book on intrigue, romance, strife and the building of a cathedral. Like War and Peace and some of the older classics you are confronted with more of the characters' lives than usual. However, you are not wondering about the main characters.

Although a long listen, this book is worth it. The narrator, John Lee, was able to bring this monumental work of Follett sufficiently to life. He pulled you through the one or two places of boredom.

For those who have or are watching the television series, the book and the series differs substantially. This leaves certain things unpredictable.

The book comes highly recommended.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Cheryl
  • 15-07-11

Wonderful Narration

A rich absorbing book with a spellbinding narration. I loved the change of pace and subtlety of the narrator.
Another Ken Follett masterpiece!

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Geoff
  • 13-12-10

Repetitious

It has taken me years to get around to this book. I actually quite enjoyed it although at 41 hours Mr Follett has made it twice as long as it needed to be. Many of the themes were repetitious and similar life stories seemed to apply to quite a few of the characters. I have always liked John Lee as a narrator. He saved the book for me.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sonja
  • 01-12-10

An epic tale!

I am a huge fan of Ken Follett so am somewhat biased, however on this occasion I think he deserves all the praise he gets. It is a long book with many characters in whose lives you become immersed. I never got bored or wished away a single word or sentence. The narration was excellent. It is an epic story and worth more than 1 credit!

3 people found this helpful

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  • Sluggalot
  • 09-10-16

Where you all listening to the same book as me?

I really don't understand the positive reviews of this book. It's truly one of the worst books I've listened to.

The characters are either stamped good guys or bad guys. And don't expect any surprises or plot twists because the author tells you exactly what his characters are going to do before they do it.

The author takes a lot of pleasure in really making sure you understand his main bad guy is bad. Hence lots of rape scenes that are really unnecessary. Also some terribly written sex scenes between 'good' characters that go on for way too long and just become awkward to the point of nausea.

This book is so long. And not in a good way. And it has more endings than the lord of the rings. Just when you think the book should finish.. Nope 10 more hours to go! It also doesn't build pace, it just peters out and you're left thinking 'I went through all that for nothing??!'

Also, although I love medieval history - which is why I wanted to read the book - it feels like the author what's to lecture you half the time on medieval life. So as interesting as medieval monastery and town planning is, along with crop rotation, stone carving techniques, felting, baking.. Etc etc etc it really really slows down the story to the point of boredom.

I want 40 hours of my life back..

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Toni
  • 31-07-13

Engrossing

What did you like about this audiobook?

The listener becomes completely immersed in this world of cathedrals and their building, life challenges, politics and love.

Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

The way in which historical information and the storyline were woven together.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

Nothing. John Lee is fabulous.

Do you have any additional comments?

This book was thoroughly enjoyable. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Robert
  • 31-10-10

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.

77 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Julie
  • 13-12-10

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.

49 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kirstine
  • 14-06-14

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.

41 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Ian
  • 17-02-11

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!

38 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mrs
  • 23-12-12

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.

29 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Robyn
  • 07-01-14

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.

27 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michelle
  • 11-01-11

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.

23 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Petra
  • 18-02-15

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.

13 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Bootie Boot
  • 03-11-20

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.

12 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Luke
  • 13-11-20

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.

10 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • brandon bailey
  • 06-01-21

Missing an important chapter!!

Please note that this recording is missing an important chapter!
Chapter 10, part 5 is half of what it should be. This is an important chapter in the book and not listening to it will lead to confusion.
Hopefully Audible fixes this issue asap.

Otherwise, this is a great story and have enjoyed listening to it.

17 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Matt
  • 09-01-16

my favourite book!

I have loved this book since I was a child. I was hesitant to try the audio book as i was afraid that the narrator wouldn't do it justice. I'm so glad i tried it out. John Lee gave this story justice with his amazing narration. his voice is beautiful to listen to and his character voices where spot on.

9 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Bernadette
  • 06-02-15

Fantastic story - great performance

You will not be disappointed with this book. It is a long book yet the end comes to soon. The pillars transports the listener to a world full of struggle and triumphs.

This was my first Ken Follett book, and have since listened to six other titles. This is the one book to start with. Enjoy!

6 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Kathryn
  • 14-02-18

Not for me.

Gave up at around the halfway mark. Could not cope with the perpetual violence, cruelty and horror. A depressing indictment of the vileness of humanity. No happy times in this book. Not recommended at all.

5 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Fady
  • 20-02-16

My favorite book!

An amazing book
An epic story spanning the entire lifetime of the characters filled with action, tragedy and love affairs. Beautifully written, i really felt that i got to know the true essence of the characters. This book will take you for a ride!

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Keelin
  • 13-06-21

Chapter 10 part 5

Great story but there is an important part of the chapter 10 part 5 missing? I'm wondering why this hasn't been changed? It ruins the story.

4 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • JILL MEYER
  • 01-12-20

Mixed feelings

Excellent story and characters but spoiled by unnecessarily detailed graphic violence. Missed the mark of being one of the greats.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 21-01-18

Great story

As good as the first time I read it and loved the narrator! Will listen to the next in the series.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • PJ
  • 11-11-17

Gripping read from start to finish!

This was a magnificent read, I was distraught when it finished as I was so invested in all the characters....thank you Ken Follett! Thank you also John for a fantastic narration

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Darryl Culgan
  • 22-10-17

sensational book

Sensational book. Wanted it to keep going. Totally different to any other book that I have read. I highly recommend it

1 person found this helpful