The Pillars of the Earth

By Ken Follett,

Book cover of The Pillars of the Earth

Book description

#1 New York Times Bestseller

Oprah's Book Club Selection

The "extraordinary . . . monumental masterpiece" (Booklist) that changed the course of Ken Follett's already phenomenal career-and begins where its prequel, The Evening and the Morning, ended.

"Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner," extolled Publishers Weekly on…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Why read it?

14 authors picked The Pillars of the Earth as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

This book took me to another place and time, one that I do not typically study or read about. While I love English history, I know little about this period.

The characters are complex, relatable, and infuriating. I spent the whole book cheering for Lady Aliena, admiring Prior Phillip, and hating William Hamleigh. I don’t know that I hated a book character more outside of Harry Potter’s Professor Umbridge!

This historical fiction masterpiece amid medieval cathedrals will make you feel intensely. 

A book about building a cathedral – really? Yes, really.

Ken Follett is an acclaimed thriller writer, but this epic tome – calling it a book doesn’t do it justice – is a major departure from the land of 20th-century thrillers. Instead, readers are transported back to 12th-century England during the reign of King Henry II. Set in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, the core of this novel is about the passion of a monk, Philip, and a mason, Tom, to build a magnificent cathedral.

But with every stone laid also comes a mountain of obstacles, political intrigue, and clashing…

I bought a copy of Pillars of the Earth mostly because I’d heard Ken Follett’s literary agent speak at a conference about their working relationship and I was curious.

I’m a bit of a history nerd but I’m terrible with dates and facts, so when I come across authors who manage to keep my attention engaged while writing about them, then I’m hooked. At over 800 words I had a good idea that dates and facts were going to feature prominently. I was right.

But I also came away from this book feeling as if I’d lived through the building…

This is certainly a book that transports you to another time and place.

Follett paints a vivid picture of 12th Century England; it is a period that I am interested in, and the way in which the author writes allows you to see the action as it unfolds on the page. Research is important in historical fiction and Follett has a great attention to detail, especially in regards to cathedrals which is the element that his story revolves around.

His characters are interesting and engaging, to the point where you feel like you know them…a great sign in a…

This is an epic read but well worth it for Aliena’s character arc alone. While she begins the story in the upper echelons of society, the ambitions of others soon send her world crashing down around her. Aliena must find her own agency in order to survive and thrive in a world dominated by men. Be patient with yourself as you read; this is a long book with a lot of characters. I was in my teens the first time I tried to read it and didn’t make it through but as an adult, I found a deep appreciation for…

From Margaret's list on a female protagonist claiming her agency.

This story is set in the 12th century and follows a group of people from all walks of life who live in Kingsbridge in the United Kingdom. The story takes place over a thirty-year period during which time a new cathedral is built in their town. The book has 12 main characters and is impeccably researched. You really get a feel for what life was like in the 12th century and the struggle people made just to survive. I really enjoyed this book and getting to know each one of the characters in detail and how many of the problems…

From Trevor's list on characters I can’t forget.

If someone had suggested I find out more about medieval architecture and the religion and lifestyles of the people at the time, my response would have been that it is not really of interest to me.

Then along came Ken Follet with his Pillars of the Earth, and off we all went. He achieved this interest and involvement through his passion for the topic, outstanding research, and, most of all, by creating real characters and weaving them into that factual background so that it burst into life for the average reader. I think it’s safe to surmise that most…

Ken Follett is not my favorite author—he’s overly fond of graphic sex scenes, and his characters tend to be two-dimensional, all good and all bad, lacking any nuances. Still, for the descriptions of the building of a cathedral alone, this book is worth wading through all 900 pages. Follett knows how to tell a story, even if it delves a bit too often into soap opera, and he keeps it moving with twists and turns you never see coming. It’s “epic” in every sense of the word, and his knowledge of medieval English life is quite extraordinary. 

The Pillars of the Earth is one of the finest examples of a period piece saga that I have ever read. It is captivating, intriguing, and will appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction at its finest. The characters are believable. You feel like you are dealing with their issues alongside them. I learned a lot about the early church-driven communities of feudal England and how the church interplayed with the politics of the day as seen through the eyes of Philip, as he fights against church and state to bring the dream of the largest Gothic church to fruition.…

I am an avid reader and love to learn about history and the people who shaped this world in times gone by. I have an eye for literary craftsmen and give special praise to those who really excite my interest and keep me reading long into the night. I first picked up Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth back in college and it blew me away in terms of historical details, plot, and characters. I had never quite read anything like it before. It’s a lengthy saga detailing a small town in Britain during the Middle Ages but the gripping…

Want books like The Pillars of the Earth?

Our community of 9,000+ authors has personally recommended 100 books like The Pillars of the Earth.

Browse books like The Pillars of the Earth

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cathedrals, construction, and the Middle Ages?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cathedrals, construction, and the Middle Ages.

Cathedrals Explore 11 books about cathedrals
Construction Explore 40 books about construction
The Middle Ages Explore 383 books about the Middle Ages