on November 23, 2011
Years ago I read a few of Ken Follett's thrillers: Lie Down With Lions comes to mind. I think I also read Key To Rebecca and Man From St Petersburg. Honestly, they were fun reads but none of them got under my skin like Pillars of the Earth released in 1989. Or eighteen long years later, World Without End.
I suppose Follett is best known for his thrillers. Goodness knows he's written twenty-odd. But it's his historical fiction I love. As far as I'm concerned the guy is a genius of the genre.
I don't know where Follett falls in literary circles. My guess is his work wouldn't be considered 'Literature' with a capital "L". Who cares? When it comes to storytelling, the man is pure gold.
His most recent work is Fall of Giants, Book One of the Century Trilogy. And the only negative thing I can say about it is I have to wait until the Fall of 2012 for the next installment, Winter of the World.
Fall of Giants is a giant of a book. Just shy of 1000 pages, it's a veritable door stopper. Despite its length, I read it faster than books a third of its size for the simple reason I couldn't put it down. It is the kind of read that you happily lug around so you can snag a few extra pages here and there. By the same token, I was sad when it ended. Now that's a good book!
A Brief Synopsis
The story begins just prior to the commencement of WWI. It follows the lives of several families from various areas of the globe: America, England & Scotland, Wales, France, Germany & Austria and Russia. Follett's characters, fictional as well as real, were so vivid I was invested in all of them, their families and their communities. So when WWI unfolds I was right there, experiencing that monumental war with them. That's the thing about historical fiction, it brings the event,as well as the people, to life.
Of course a novel like Fall of Giants doesn't replace scholarly study of WWI but it is an overview. And as such, it offers examples of how people from the various areas were affected and how the war was a catalyst for other events and political movements. And for this purpose, Follett's facts are well-researched.
Within the first pages of Fall of Giants, there's a map of Europe, circa 1914 and a Cast of Characters that went on for several pages. This did cause me pause. Don't let it put you off. I never once had to refer to the characters' names or relationship to one another. That's because Follett is also a master of logic. At his hand, the entwined stories make perfect sense.
The story ends after the Great War, leaving Follett's pen perfectly poised to take flight with Winter of the World.
My Final Word
If you appreciate historical fiction and books you can get lost in, you'll love Fall of Giants!
on November 6, 2010
When Ken Follett was asked why he chose to write FALL OF GIANTS, the first novel in his planned CENTURY trilogy, the intersecting history of five families beginning in the early years of the twentieth century, he responded:
"The 20th century is the most dramatic and violent period in the history of the human race. We killed more people in the 20th century than in any previous century, in the trenches of World War I, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, in Germany under the Nazis, Spain under Franco. There was World War II and the bombing of Dresden by the British and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a horrible century and yet it is also the century of liberty."
"Very few countries were democratic before the First World War. In Britain in 1900, fewer than a quarter of the adult population had the vote. None of the women had the vote in any of these countries, so that's 50 per cent of the people who weren't allowed to take part in democracy. And the franchise was gradually extended to working class men, so democracy really only had a toehold in the world in 1900. Now we take it for granted, certainly in all the countries we think are "civilized." And that's a big contrast with what we did in terms of killing each other."
FALL OF GIANTS, by telling the engaging stories of the lives of these five families, also tells the story of Europe and its politics as so many nations stumbled foolishly into World War I; as many countries extended the franchise to a small fraction of women and working class men; as Russia toppled their monarchy and moved towards an equally repressive Communist dictatorship after the Bolshevik Revolution; as the USA unilaterally assumed the role of the world's policeman and spearheaded the development of The League of Nations; and as a minor German radical, in the teeth of a crippling imposed peace settlement, implemented the National Socialist party beginning the steady march to a second global conflagration even as many European nations swore, "Never again"!
Some reviewers have criticized Follett's characters as being flat stereotypes. For my money, I saw them as exceptionally well-developed metaphors for broad classes of people that, for one reason or another, would have experienced World War I differently and would have seen the politics and the results of the war from dramatically different perspectives.
Billy Williams, to draw only one example from Follett's heavily populated dramatis personae, was an apt representative of England's working class man who, prior to the war, was a coal miner subject to the brutal and self-centered whims of capitalist mine owners. Despite a quick mind and keen wit, he was once again subject during the war to the orders of officers who frequently seemed to lack even a modicum of common sense as to the prosecution of an offensive against Germany. Finally, as the franchise was at long last extended to working men, he served as the illustrative example of the rise of the Labour Party as it came to power in England immediately after the war.
It is through this type of metaphorical character that Follett has achieved nothing less than a compelling re-telling of the history of Europe through the first 25 years of the twentieth century! It is not often that I can say that a 1000 page monster has managed to keep me glued to the pages from first to last but FALL OF GIANTS certainly managed it. The depth of understanding of the progress of world history that Follett conveys by looking at events through the eyes of such an enormously varied spectrum of characters can hardly be overstated. English speaking secondary schools around the world might do themselves and their students a favour by considering this as mandatory reading for their history curricula.
Highly recommended ... and now I sit and wait for the second instalment in the trilogy! Sigh!
Ken Follett's new novel, "Fall of Giants", is a big boy. It's so big that it could be used as a door stop for a steel door. But I have a feeling that most people reading this review already know it's a big book and don't expect anything less from Ken Follett.
"Giants" is the first in a trilogy about the 20th century. At least I assume it is, because this book is about the run-up to the "Great War" (WW1) and the four years of war. Follett, as usual, has many characters from Europe and the United States. Most are fictional but some are real. He has the talent to draw these many fictional characters with a deft brush, nuanced-enough to be distinguishable from each other. That's no mean feat, actually; how many novels have you read whose characters just blend into each other and you're never sure about who's who? To help out, though, Follett puts a "character page" in the front of the book.
I can't decide if the reader has to have fundamental knowledge of WW1 to appreciate this book. Follett is a pretty good amateur historian and he's written an excellent "historical novel". So, I guess it would appeal to, and help teach, readers of any kind. I thought the same thing about his novels about medieval England.
Follett follows the fortunes and fates of roughly 10 main characters. All intersect to a certain extent - thwarted lovers, Welsh miners-from-Russia, and diplomats-trying-to-prevent-war - in Follett's pages. I'm looking forward to Follett's next two books in the trilogy to learn what happens to these people as the 20th century unfolds. He's a good writer, as most anyone reading this book would probably agree.
"Like a cloak You will fold them up,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not fail." -- Hebrews 1:12 (NKJV)
Isn't it interesting that on the day I wrote this review, the hardcover book retailed for quite a bit less on Amazon than the Kindle version? Who would have thought that could be possible for a book that's almost 1,000 pages long?
As a youngster, I was fascinated by the CBS televised history series, "You Are There," which was narrated by Walter Cronkite. These re-enactments of critical moments made history interesting and understandable to me in a delightful way that helped turn me into a history major in college. I'm deeply grateful for the experience.
I was fascinated to see that Fall of Giants was designed to take a similar approach, while adding the desirable qualities of multiple narrators with different perspectives, much interaction among the characters, and a family saga element that provides even more depth of understanding. Even though I am quite familiar with the histories that are related here, I found myself wondering what historical lessons would be added to the comments made by the "future-looking" characters who often serve as quasi-prophets in the stories. A lot of historians must have worked very hard to be sure that so many historical insights made it into this novel. Fall of Giants has a surface accuracy that's quite impressive. I suspect that a lot of people will learn more about 1911 through 1923 in the UK, Russia, Germany, and the United States from this book than from any history courses that have taken or might take in the future.
When I saw the list of characters, I couldn't for the life of me imagine how they might relate to one another across cultures. The nicest surprises in the book came from the many unexpected little events that Mr. Follett used to bring his characters together and to draw them apart. I couldn't wait to get to the end to see what inventions he would use.
The book emphasizes the story lines of:
aristocracy losing to meritocracy
integrity being better than popularity and wealth
new ideas replacing tradition
duty versus responsibility
women seeking more equal opportunities
male egos being harmful to everyone else
Watch out that you don't read any detailed descriptions of how the characters' stories develop. You will lose a lot of the joy of the book should that occur.
I like books where the main characters have many chances to make decisions, to express themselves, and to deal with adversity. From the combination, I can get to know and understand them much better. Fall of Giants really delivers in that way for characters such as Gus Dewar, Earl Fitzherbert, Lady Maud Fitzherbert, Walter von Ulrich, Grigori Peshkov, Ethel Williams, and Billy Williams.
I am excited that there are two more books in the trilogy to come. I'm ready!
Bravo, Mr. Follett!
This is a huge book but it has a big story to tell. Follett creates characters that readers care about and want to know. When the book ended, I wanted more. Even though I was past the 900 page mark. History informs Folletts writing but never overwhelms it. Often history is so strong that fictional stories stretch thin over the realities of the time. That never happens with Follett. His stories are so complexly woven that they drape easily over the historical topography of the first world war. In the end you understand the time better though fiction than you ever did through education. That's a feat!
on January 7, 2011
What a great series of stories woven together! I am curious about why the Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge was not acknowledged? My grandfather survived " three years and 14 days...in the greatest battles of WWI, and yet there is very little mention of how a fledgling country out-smarted an army that had, literally, been stuck in the mud, for a very long time? Perhaps the research should include all the parties that were involved in the "Fall of Giants"?!!Wendy Fish
I've read everything Follett puts out, as well as seen all the adaptations of his novels for television. I love his writing style, characters, and historical observations all rolled into one. Fall of Giants is the first of three, adding up to a massive collection of pages, and the one thing I love the most is simple: this is Follett at his best. Every page, every character, every story, every twist has his unmistakable style on it. It grabs you and leads you page by page, through the narrative. Sure, some of the history may be slightly off, but it's not meant to be a history book but a novel. And so, those deviations with history are not an issue for me. I read this book for the story, not the lesson. And that story just kept drawing me back, page after page.
This isn't literary heaven. Follet won't be getting the Nobel Prize for Literature from books like this. What he will get are dedicated readers, such as myself, who devour his stories. And that's what these are: stories of people living their lives, doing mundane and not so mundane things, with no bigger purpose to the book than to present those stories in a way that enthralls. And in that aspect, Follett has been enthralling readers for years.
In the end, this book along with the others in the series, end up being my favorite Folletts. As such, I've lent my copies to several people, all of whom start by complaining how big the book is and how long it will take to work their way through, but always end up a week or two later complaining it was too short and they want the next volume! Not one person I've give Fall of Giants to has been less then enthusiastic about the book. And in the end, that's the best testament that can be given a book: people read it, end to end, not wanting to stop, because they love the narrative.
Follett is a master, no question. For me, this is his masterpiece. So far, anyway!
This is a huge, sweeping story, encompassing many characters, events, and countries. At nearly a thousand pages, this book is not for the faint of heart. What it is, however, is a wonderful, entertaining work of historical fiction, written by a master storyteller, for those who enjoy that genre.
With well-developed characters and a riveting plot, the author takes the reader down memory lane. The world of the early twentieth century is presented with all its class distinctions, and the events that lead up to World War I and beyond are beautifully integrated into this sweeping saga that focuses on the British, the Americans, the Germans, and the Russians.
The tragedy of World War I and its aftermath, the Russian revolution, the suffragette movement, the erosion of class distinctions, and the emergence of a middle class, are some of the seminal historical benchmarks that are touched upon in this epic novel. The evolvement of these events is seen through the lives of the main characters, and the reader is able to see how these events impact upon each of them.
I really enjoyed this well-written book and could not put it down for the two days that it took me to read it. It was certainly time well spent, and I most definitely look forward to reading the other two books that will be forthcoming in this trilogy.
One of the truly gigantic forces of change, especially in modern history, has to be war. Ken Follett's recent historical novel, "Fall of Giants", is proof, once again, that people and their values are never safe when they come through the great wine press of global conflict such as witnessed in the Great War of 1914-1918. You don't have to be a student of history to appreciate how easy it is for people, from all walks of life, to be willingly caught up in a large-scale conflict only to discover that they are not in control of their destiny as they once thought. Like many of his other books such as "Pillars of the Earth", this work is definitely big picture: main characters such as a young lad who starts out temporarily lost in the bowels of a Welsh coal pit and two Russian brothers who suddenly switch places because of dramatically intervening circumstances form the unassuming beginnings of what eventually turns out to be an amazingly complex story of hopes and dreams made and remade over several decades of cataclysmic adventure. There is no playful randomness or experimenting in this novel because Follett, the writer, has his masterful hand on the controls. The many significant people in this cast are going to cross paths many times throughout their lives, and each time a little bit of their lives will change either for better or worse. Leading the charge in implementing these many incremental changes will be the savagery of war as it eradicates the follies, prejudices and privileges of the old order and replaces them with new aspirations of freedom and opportunity for a better world. This saga does an excellent job in blending the personal lives of interesting and controversial individuals within the overall ebb and flow of general history. Both aspects complement each other in making the crucial point that while we may not want to believe it, our lives are shaped by forces infinitely greater than anything we can imagine. Whether we be aristocrat, soldier, king, president or social activist, our lot in life is being inevitably determined by forces outside our control. Change is no respecter of culture, upbringing, education, or money. Like other reviewers, I can't wait to see how this monumental tale plays out in the rest of the twentieth century. Great read for anyone who loves history and the ordinary characters that make it happen. Kings, queens and presidents get caught up in the rabble to become very ordinary creatures in time.
on October 20, 2012
It took me several weeks to complete this book as it is so large but it was so worth it; as it is a very good read. This book has it all - love, war, friendship, tragedy, and hatred. It has very strong character development throughout and you really start to love some of the characters and hate others for their actions and what not. I love how Follett manages to interrelate all his characters so ingeniously, it is awesome.
I'm huge on history, and this book really sheds some light on exactly how WW1 started, progressed, and ended. It was great reading about the Russian revolution ultimately accomplished by the Bolsheviks. Anyone who loves 20th Century history will adore these aspects of the book.
I very much recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It is a great read and you will not be disappointed.