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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 55 mins
5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-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 US

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)

Award-winning novelist Ken Follett is at his most magnificent in Pillars of the Earth, Book One 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.

What members say

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Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Mrs
  • Whitland, United Kingdom
  • 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.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

67 of 70 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Julie
  • United Kingdom
  • 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.

35 of 38 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Petra
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kirstine
  • Midlothian
  • 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.

23 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Robyn
  • escaping to another world
  • 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.

21 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Ian
  • Bolton, United Kingdom
  • 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!

35 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michelle
  • Watford, United Kingdom
  • 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.

21 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Maxine Pearson
  • 15-01-18

Not good....gave up after a few chapters

Sorry to say this book, in my view, is not good. It’s not a book for people who are familiar with sorties/facts around medieval England as there are so many inconsistencies and errors. The narration is awful..by the time I stoped listening I was laughing at how the narrators female voices were beginning to sound like monty python...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • VJ
  • 04-08-17

Fantastic!!

A brilliant novel - very long - but I was still sorry when it ended. I am left with a strong sense of what it must have been like to live in medieval times.
Excellently narrated by John Lee - his Welsh accent is so good - he must have some Welsh roots!?! :-)
I cannot recommend this book enough - I wish more stars were available for books such as this!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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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!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 27-08-17

Engaging storyline and interesting characters

Loved this audio book! It's become one of my favourites. Would highly recommend to everyone

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 15-08-19

Loved it!

This is one of my favorite listens! Loved it. The narrator was fantastic, and writing wonderful.

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  • Marie Flechas
  • 24-06-19

I love this story!

It takes you there, to mediaeval England, into the homes & lives of it's remarkable characters.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-06-19

Awesome!

Very memorable story. Worth the time to hear it all. Beautifully narrated. Have rwad the book myself, but worth listening to again to gain further insight A+++

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  • Anonymous User
  • 31-05-19

Loved it

I love this book - was epic and fast paced at the same time - never a dull moment