• The Pillars of the Earth

  • By: Ken Follett
  • Narrated by: John Lee
  • Length: 40 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (33,126 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.  

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 historical masterpiece.

©1989 Ken Follett (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Follett is a master." (The Washington Post

"A historical novel of gripping readability, authentic atmosphere and detail and memorable characterization." (Publishers Weekly

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What listeners say about The Pillars of the Earth

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Epic story to be read by all!

I downloaded this book based on a review by another person who said something about how they couldn't believe a book about a monk trying to build a cathedral could be so interesting. Well they were right!

I just skimmed over some of the reviews here after reading the book and I can't believe some of these people and I read the same book! I personally was never bored with any of the parts. Many times I sat in my car once I got to work, just to hear out the rest of the chapter. Ken Follet is a brilliant writer and really drew me into his characters. I even felt true hatred towards the villains - I would come in from my hour drive home work ranting to my husband how much I hated so and so.

Some reviews here talk about the book being vulgar, that is not true. There are some sexual encounters in this book (some the good kind and others terrible), but they add to the storyline. I personally felt it brought more realism to book, but did not feel like the author overdid the frequency of encounters like some other books do.

I'm traveling to England this month for the first time and thanks to this book I've altered my itinerary in order to visit some cathedrals. I want to marvel at the architecture and imagine the trials and tribulations the builders went through.

I love historical fiction and enjoyed how the author brought in real events (that I could look up) and gave the ordinary people of that time a voice. I could imagine how hard life really was for them and the life and death effects of the decisions and whims of the rulers. I have a better appreciation for their struggles.

The narrator did a fabulous job. Some narrators can ruin a book, but John Lee brought all those characters to life. Sometimes I'd forget it was the same man voicing every character.

I do wish the author had given his comments at the end of the book, not at the beginning. It gave away some of the plot.

311 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Couldn't Take My Buds Out

I thought, whew, 40 hours, but I really enjoyed it. One of those books that keeps you up late.
I liked the way the story moved. My only complaint was the repeaded rapes and the details of step by step sex, which, I personally find boring by most writers, I did >> a couple of times. I'm downloading the sequel now, so that tells the real tale. If you like family and political sagas, you won't be disappointed.

200 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good historical setting, but loose story.

I read this when it came out, because I was a graduate student of medieval history at the time, and now I've heard it on audiobook. Some aspects of the work are very impressive, others are rather simplistic pop fiction, but overall it's a rewarding book, and the performance is impressive, considering how long John Lee has to keep your attention with his reading.

The aspect of the book I loved most was the setting and the technical details. It recreates a medieval world, from the economy of the villages to the politics of the monastery, with intricate and impressive detail on the building of the cathedral and the changing architectural styles and challenges. That alone is worth the listen.

The story--as he himself has described it--is a series of melodramas over a couple of generations, some of which take the whole book to develop, some of which are settled as they go, much like a Victor Hugo novel, but without the great writing and complex insight. The tales themselves sound more like 20th century dramas than medieval lives. There are few of the moral dilemmas medieval literature dwells on, and you could just drop the same stories into modern England without much change beyond clothing and settings. Add a few cell phones and IPods, and you're good to go.

Overall, I recommend it. Four stars, because I can't give three and a half. The setting is worth the listen, and the melodramas are emotionally engaging even if not very medieval. It's long pop fiction with a more sophisticated setting. If you want a modern novel in a well-researched medieval setting, this is it. If you want historical fiction that recreates the emotional and intellectual psyche of the time, this is not it. Try Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose" for that, I guess.

199 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

It was very hard to get through this one

I am astonished at all the great reviews of this book. I thought it was terrible. The characters are cardboard and cartoonish. The good people are really, really good. The evil people are totally evil. And there is no one in between -- the place real human beings inhabit. The plot consists of an endless series of contrived catastrophes which befall the good people, usually at the hands of the bad people, with no apparent point other than to prolong the book.

The characters do no behave or have world views that are remotely like people of the middle ages. Maybe I'm too picky about this, since my undergraduate degree was in the history of medieval England. But anyone who thinks they are getting a genuine understanding of the medieval world is being sadly misled. For example, there are characters who say they don't believe in God. NO ONE in the middle ages did not believe in God. The entire concept of atheism would have been completely incomprehensible to the medieval mind. The endless talk about all people wanting "freedom" from kings or noble overlords is equally absurd.This kind of thinking comes from the 18th Century Enlightenment. People in the 12th Century just didn't think this way. These characters talk and think like 20th Century Americans, not medieval Europeans.

And, as others have mentioned, the long graphic rape scenes were just disgusting. Certainly a rape scene may be legitimately included in a book for artistic or plot reasons. But Follett goes way overboard. He tosses in multiple graphic rapes, plus an interminable and very graphic bear-beating scene, and a long scene where the bad guys try to stone a cat to death, all of which are completely unnecessary to the plot, and seem to be there simply to satisfy the author's interest in sadism.

Because of the glowing reviews, I kept listening in the hope that it would get better. By the time I realized it was not going to improve, I was so far in that I decided to just finish the thing. I wish I hadn't.

116 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


This one sat in my wish list for a couple of months while I debated. The length did not bother me, that was why it ended up in my wish list to begin with ... but was not sure how interesting a story about 13 century cathedral building would be. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!! I have downloaded close to 200 books in the past year and this one and the following "World without End" also by Ken Follett, which I downloaded immediately after this one, are definitely in my top 10 faves. I agree with others that it is a bit heavy on the sex but it was still a wonderfully captivating adventure.

102 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Exceptional Book

The book is a compelling tapestry of colorful tales that together make the building of a cathedral whole cloth. The depiction of medieval life highlighted by the building of the cathedral is riveting and has stimulated me to read the books Follett mentions in the preface that he primarily used as the historical basis of his book.
The plot is never dull as one reader incredibly mentioned. It is loaded with adventure, history, love, cruelty, devotion, moral outrage, fealty; and has as many plot twists as a medieval cathedral has stones.
Other than being a great document about medieval life, Pillars of the Earth is a gripping work of literature.

99 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great Story

I really enjoyed this story. The characters are rich, you are given a full range of people who could be literary "good-guys" or "bad-guys". Their choices are interesting and the plot is full of turns and even suspense. I would have given this book five starts except a few things bothered me. First the author used quite a bit of foul language in the characters speech. If you are not bothered by four letter words you probably wont notice and enjoy the book just fine. Secondly, to make the antagonist even more sinister the author included several rape scenes with the antagonist enjoying his cruelty. The imaging was disturbing and again, if you are not sensitive to these kinds of scenes it wont be a problem. Over all the story was fantastic and a really interesting read. The book is very long and satisfying. I thought I would get bored but it was great. The reader also does a great job of bringing the different characters to life with different voices.

91 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Too vulgar, quit after two rapes

This was my first Follett book and initially I was very impressed; he is a brilliant writer. But after two brutal rape scenes in the first quarter of the book, I decided I had put enough trash in my brain and quit. I guess everything is supposed to be okay today and its cool to let it all hang out in a book, you know, for art's sake, but this turned my stomach and made me feel trashy. If you like brilliant trashy, then this may be the book for you. Apparently from the high ratings, a lot of people are able to overlook the gross vulgarity, or the ones that can't are so offended they try to erase it from their mind and don't write a review. It could have been an extraordinary work.

Also, if you are a believer, you will be offended. He comments in the preface that he is not spiritual. Basically, he mocks faith at every turn as hypocritical. Many people who only know faith from the outside feel that way. This is not the forum for me to debate the merits of faith, but be aware.

89 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Great Listen except...

I really enjoyed listening to this book and found John Lee's performance to be engaging (as always). Great plot and i would have given it 5 stars except that there are many very explicit rape scenes in this book which were quite disturbing. The first two had a point but the rest were unnecessary in my opinion--I started to wonder if the author had a hidden facination with sexual violence because the rest of the violence in the book were not as explicit. If explicit rape scenes bother you, I wouldn't recommend this book (which is unfortunate because the rest of it is quite good).

60 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Errr, uhhh!

Most of the forty hours I spent listening to this book I amused myself by planning what I would say about it. It wasn't bad enough to stop, but it's a bit of a slog. The characters are moderately interesting and there's some history, but it's a soap opera - good guys and bad guys duking it out - over and over and over. I kept thinking, "enough already!". Truly, it's one struggle after another, some graphic and disturbing violence. The prose was basic, the story only moderately interesting and very repetitive (ie. the bad guy raped and pillaged his way through the book which got old), and the end didn't ring my cathedral bells. Kind of a set up for the next long book. The one stellar fact is that the narration is outstanding.

53 people found this helpful