Review Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Ken Follett’s magnificent new historical epic begins as five interrelated families move through the momentous dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage. 

A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits. . . . An American law student rejected in love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House. . . . A housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy. . . . And two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution.

From the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty, Fall of Giants takes us into the inextricably entangled fates of five families—and into a century that we thought we knew, but that now will never seem the same again. . . .

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy, Book 1) by [Follett, Ken]


Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2010: Welcome to the 20th century as you’ve never seen it. At over 1,000 pages, Fall of Giants delivers all the elements that fans of Ken Follett have come to treasure: historical accuracy, richly developed characters, and a sweeping yet intimate portrait of a past world that you’ll fully inhabit before the first chapter is through. The story follows five families across the globe as their fates intertwine with the extraordinary events of World War I, the political struggles within their own countries, and the rise of the feminist movement. Intriguing stories of love and loyalty abound, from a forbidden romance between a German spy and a British aristocrat to a Russian soldier and his scandal-ridden brother in love with the same woman. Action-packed with blood on the battlefield and conspiracies behind closed doors, Fall of Giants brings the nuances of each character to life and shifts easily from dirty coal mines to sparkling palaces. There is so much to love here, and the good news is the end is just the beginning: Fall of Giants is the first in a planned trilogy. –Miriam Landis

From Publishers Weekly

Using characters from different countries—Russia, Wales, England, the U.S., and Germany—and from different classes, Follett’s first book in the Century trilogy provides a compelling mesh of interactions that push the story forward and allow a panoramic view of WWI’s burden on five families. With over 30 hours, this audiobook would be a challenge for any narrator, but John Lee proves a solid and engaging choice. His deep voice moves through the prose smoothly and forcefully; he manipulates his tone, emphasis, and accent to develop vocal personas for the extensive cast of characters, and keeps a solid pace through the dialogue. It’s a marathon performance of a mammoth book that will leave listeners eagerly anticipating the next installment. A Dutton hardcover. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

After a sequence of spy thrillers, Follett burst onto the historical fiction scene in 1989 with the megahit The Pillars of the Earth, set in twelfth-century England, and nearly two decades later (having written many other novels in the meantime), he followed with a sequel, World without End. His new book inaugurates what is to be a trio of historical novels (called the Century Trilogy), and it duplicates in structure the two novels mentioned above: showcasing the lives of five families from all walks of life and involved in various ways with the issues of the day from the outbreak of WWI to the early 1920s and reflecting these issues over a broad geographical range, the families here being from Britain, the U.S., Russia, and Germany. The social range of this big, sweeping, completely enveloping novel is announced in the very first line: “On the day King George V was crowned at Westminster Abbey in London, Billy Williams went down the pit in Aberowen, Wales.” Actual historical figures populate the narrative along with fictional characters, all of whom experience in different ways war, revolution, and the fight for women’s rights. –Brad Hooper


Praise for Fall of Giants

“Follett is masterly in conveying so much drama and historical information so vividly . . . grippingly told.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Follett conjures the winds of war.” —The Washington Post

“A good read. . . . It’s a book that will suck you in, consume you for days or weeks . . . then let you out the other side both entertained and educated. That’s quite the feat.” —USA Today

“Grand in scope, scale, and story.” —The Associated Press

“Follett entwines fiction and factual events well. . . . This is a dark novel, motivated by an unsparing view of human nature and a clear-eyed scrutiny of an ideal peace. It is not the least of Follett’s feats that the reader finishes this near thousand-page book intrigued and wanting more.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Fascinating, in a big way.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Fall of Giants is a book for you to savor, one in which you can lose yourself for hours on end. It is a big book that tells a big story, but it is one you will not want to end.” —The Huffington Post
“Follett once again creates a world at once familiar and fantastic. . . . A guiltless pleasure, the book is impossible to put down. . . . Empires fall. Heroes rise. Love conquers. After going through a war with these characters, you’re left hoping that Follett gets moving with the next giant installment.” —Time Out New York

“A suspenseful epic.” —The Seattle Times

“Tantalizing.” —Newsday

Top customer reviews


I thoroughly enjoyed Ken Follett’s epics, “Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End”. Though they are hefty tomes, the pages flew. Thus I jumped at the chance to read and review Follett’s latest epic, “Fall of Giants” which promises to be the first in The Century Trilogy. When it arrived from Amazon at ~1000 pages and 4 inches thick, I found myself contemplating one of the advantages of having a slim Kindel (I don’t). When the thing comes out in hardback in September it could be used a murder weapon!

But we all know that size doesn’t matter when you’ve got an expert storyteller weaving an enthralling tale. I became so engrossed that I’d look up and 100 pages would have flown by. What is it that makes Follett so consistently “readable”? In “Fall of Giants” it’s because the book is so well researched about the period (early 20th century especially WWI) with information on coal mining, trade unions, women’s suffrage, protocols and manners of the minor royalty, politics, government, revolution and war. The story flows from this rich period but the riveting characters are at the forefront. Even the largely unsympathetic characters, such as the Earl, are made at least understandable because Follett thoughtfully portrays their motivations. There are few totally good or evil characters here, as it should be. (Though Follett seems none too fond of Russians and priests – be they Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox!)

In past reviews I have criticized authors that I believe would benefit from more editing (e.g., Steven King, John Irving) so why don’t I find Follett’s book to be too long? Because there are no slow spots, no political point pushing, and no self-indulgent purple prose.

I learned a great deal about WWI reading this novel, what led up to it and how it set the stage for WWII, which I hope is the subject of the next volume. It was fascinating to read about how the media and the governments of all the countries involved, lied to their people about how bad it was.

One other thing that I believe readers should know going in: as mentioned, this is Part One of a promised trilogy but, like “Pillars” and “World” it is a stand-alone novel. The reader is not left gripping a cliff at the end. I recently very much enjoyed Connie Willis’ “Blackout” which DOES end with a cliff hanger and I am glad I knew that going in; some readers didn’t and felt cheated. You will not feel at all cheated at the end of “Fall of Giants”. Enjoy!


Although Fall of Giants is about World I and circumstances leading up to the start of the war, it is primarily about everyday people. There is the Williams family—young Billy Williams is going to the coal mine for the first time—and his Sister Ethel, who works at the house of Earl Edward Fitzherbert (Fitz) of Aberowen (a fictional Welsh town). Fitz, a conservative, is married to Bea, a Russian Princess and his a sister Maud who has very liberal views. Maud falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a German nobleman and a former schoolmate of Fitz’s.

We are also introduced to the Peshkov orphans from Russia, who work in a locomotive factory, and hold a personal grudge against Princess Bea for the murder of their parents. We meet Gus Dewar, who is a close adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.

Although it is a work of fiction and we find the lives of these characters intertwining as the cause of the First World War is explained and WWI is declared, historical facts are linked in the telling of the collapse of Imperial Russia (Lenin’s role in the rise of the Bolsheviks) and Germany’s role in the bloody war that led to Europe’s economic collapse and the rise of Hitler. The novel also devotes several chapters on women’s rights (suffrage) in Britain.

Mr. Follett shows us the devastation caused by the war and of the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches and the thousands who are killed in action while the politicians hide the real facts from the masses. We find the characters and their extended families trying to survive in the world they find themselves in, the quality of life, health, and education. The effects of the First World War are brought out vividly as these characters interact with each other, and their fortunes change some for better, others for worse.

A very interesting read indeed.

S J Perrott: 
I rarely read books this long as I am a slow reader. This story was so compelling, so many sets of characters from different countries (primarily Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France and the US) that I read it fairly quickly. The story line follows the developments of World War 1 from its start to finish. While I thought I knew the outcome, I had never understood this war at all. This book gave me a much better understanding of that time in history (even gave me an understanding of the Russian revolution) all without feeling like I was reading a history lesson. It was exciting, exhilarating, depressing, confusing, sad and joyful – I can honestly say, never a dull moment. The characters are great. Many strong women characters, at odds with their times. Gives a good understanding of class distinctions in England, and how these were somewhat obliterated by WW1. Just a well written interesting, and sometimes challenging read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to read the second part of the Century Trilogy by Follett.

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