Pillars of the Earth: A Partial Book Report

Over the holidays, I pilfered this book from my parents’ home:

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett – from Oprah’s book club!

I’m only a quarter of the way through (it’s 973 pages!), but even the exposition has made for an interesting read.  Though the story is based in 12th century Europe, the characters have the same thoughts and motivations as modern people – which shouldn’t be a surprise, but is.  Especially when they are totally oblivious to how rough their lives are, at least compared to how similarly poor/rich people live today.

It can take weeks if not months for villagers to find out about the death of a king, because that information is dispersed mostly through church gatherings.  Peasants don’t have horses, so they wander by foot from town to town looking for work and food.  They are concerned with surviving the winter, feeding their families, and little else. They get by on apples and ale, and if they’re lucky, hibernating squirrels.

Ken Follett touches on this in the book’s introduction:

The builders had no power tools, they did not understand the mathematics of structural engineering, and they were poor: the richest of princes did not live as well as say, a prisoner in a modern jail.  Yet they put up some of the most beautiful buildings that have ever existed, and they built them so well that they are still here, hundreds of years later, for us to study and marvel at.

Granting that the novel was written in 1989 and not 1189, we have to take the lifestyle depictions and characterization with a grain of salt.  Even so, it feels totally believable that characters who are called “ugly” are actually hard to look at – covered in burns and boils like Freddy Krueger.  Young people with fine clothes and good health are described as “handsome.”

It occurs to me that the vast majority of people living in the world today would be considered pretty hot back then.  After all we have antibiotics, mirrors, the agricultural revolution, and Nike.

From the TV Miniseries.
Waaay unrealistically attractive

Take me back in time, and my beauty would capture a king!  Of course my gold-digging could at best yield a man who had never used Gillette or Old Spice, and a castle sans electricity, running water, or frozen pizza.  That’s a dealbreaker, ladies!

One Thought on “Pillars of the Earth: A Partial Book Report

  1. Great book.
    If you like this one, you’ll enjoy his other books too! He has written about such a wide variety of subjects. For your next one, I suggest you look over Follett’s list and pick one out you don’t think you would like and/or is a subject you know little about.

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