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Fall of Giants (Follett)

Fall of Giants (Century Trilogy, 1)
Ken Follett, 2010
Penguin Group (USA)
960 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780451232854


Summary
Ken Follett's World Without End was a global phenomenon, a work of grand historical sweep, beloved by millions of readers and acclaimed by critics as "well-researched, beautifully detailed [with] a terrifically compelling plot" (The Washington Post) and "wonderful history wrapped around a gripping story" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

Fall of Giants is his magnificent new historical epic. The first novel in The Century Trilogy, it follows the fates of five interrelated families-American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh-as they move through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

Thirteen-year-old Billy Williams enters a man's world in the Welsh mining pits...Gus Dewar, an American law student rejected in love, finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson's White House...two orphaned Russian brothers, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, embark on radically different paths half a world apart when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution...Billy's sister, Ethel, 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 Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German embassy in London...

These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as, in a saga of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, Fall of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St. Petersburg, 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. As always with Ken Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. It is destined to be a new classic.

In future volumes of The Century Trilogy, subsequent generations of the same families will travel through the great events of the rest of the twentieth century, changing themselves-and the century itself. With passion and the hand of a master, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again. (From the publisher.)

This is the first book of Follett's Century Trilogy. The second book (2012) is Winter of the World.



Author Bio 
Birth—June 5, 1949
Where—Cardiff, Wales, UK
Education—B.A., University College, London
Awards—Edgar Award (1978)
Currently—lives in Hertfordshire, England


As a young boy growing up in Cardiff, Wales, Ken Follett's love for all things literary began early on. The son of devoutly religious parents who didn't allow their children to watch television or even listen to the radio, Follett found himself drawn to the library. It soon became his favorite place -- its shelves full of stories providing his escape, and ultimately, his inspiration.

Follett's more formal education took place years later at London's University College, where he studied philosophy—a choice that, as he explains on his official Web site, he believes guided his career as an author. "There is a real connection between philosophy and fiction," Follet explains. "In philosophy you deal with questions like: ‘We're sitting at this table, but is the table real?' A daft question, but in studying philosophy, you need to take that sort of thing seriously and have an off-the-wall imagination. Writing fiction is the same."

After graduating in 1970, a journalism class touched off Follett's career as a writer. He started out covering beats for the South Wales Echo, and later wrote a column for London's Evening News. Becoming more and more interested in writing fiction on evenings and weekends, however, Follett soon realized that books were his true business, and in 1974 he went to work for Everest Books, a humble London publishing house.

After releasing a few of his own novels to less than thunderous acclaim—including The Shakeout (1975) and Paper Money (1977)—Follett finally hit it big with 1978's Eye of the Needle. The taut, edgy thriller with more than a dash of sex appeal flew off the shelves, winning the Edgar award and allowing Follett to quit his job and get to work on his next book, Triple. Showing no signs of a sophomore slump, Triple went on to spark a string of bestselling spy thrillers, including The Key to Rebecca (1980), The Man from St. Petersburg (1982), and Lie Down with Lions (1986). 1983's On Wings of Eagles was an interesting departure—a nonfiction account of how two of Ross Perot's employees were rescued from Iran during in 1979.

Follett changed direction even more sharply in 1989, surprising fans with The Pillars of the Earth—a novel set in the Middle Ages many critics considered his crowning achievement. "A novel of majesty and power," said The Chicago Sun-Times of Follett's epic story. "It will hold you, fascinate you, surround you."

Follett's next three books were a trio considered to be more suspenseful than thrill-filled—Night Over Water (1991), A Dangerous Fortune (1993) and A Place Called Freedom (1995), but The Third Twin (1996) and The Hammer of Eden (1998) marked a return to Follett's trademark capers. The wartime novels Code to Zero (2000) and Jackdaws (2001) showcased Follett's "unique ability to tell stories of international conflict and tell them well," according to Larry King in USA Today.

Follett "hits the mark again" (Publishers Weekly) with his latest story of international intrigue, Hornet Flight (2002)—the WWII story of a young couple trying to escape occupied Denmark in a rebuilt Hornet Moth biplane who become unwitting carriers of top-secret information.

In a way, Follett's smash-hit success has allowed him to give back to the library of Cardiff, Wales—by filling its shelves with his own transporting tales.

Extras
Eye of the Needle was made into a major motion picture, and four of Follett's books have been made into television mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles and The Third Twin—the rights for which were sold to CBS for the record sum of $1,400,000.

A very civic-minded soul, Follett is quite involved in his Hertfordshire community, serving as President of the Dyslexia Institute, Council Member of the National Literacy Trust, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Chair of Governors of the Roebuck Primary School & Nursery, Patron of Stevenage Home-Start, director of the Stevenage Leisure Ltd. and Vice-President of the Stevenage Borough Football club. (Author bio from Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews 
Follett is masterly in conveying so much drama and historical information so vividly. He puts to good use the professional skills he has honed over the years—giving his characters a conversational style neither pseudo-quaint nor jarringly contemporary. That works well. And for all his belief in the redemptive quality of liberal humanism, he makes sure not to endow his characters with excessively modern sensibilities. As for the occasional cliche—well, unless you're Tolstoy, you're not going to have the time or the ability to be original throughout your 1,000-page blockbuster. Ken Follett is no Tolstoy, but he is a tireless storyteller, and although his tale has flaws, it's grippingly told, and readable to the end.
Roger Boylan - New York Times


[I]n every way, a Big Book.... Just as Herman Wouk did in The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, Follett creates a large cast of fictional characters and deploys them across the globe, using their private experiences to illuminate the catastrophic events that marked the early years of the century.... [Follett] knows how to tell a compelling, well-constructed story. Once its basic elements are in place, the narrative acquires a cumulative, deceptively effortless momentum.... Perhaps the major reasons for the novel's ultimate success are Follett's comprehensive grasp of the historical record and his ability to integrate research into a colorful, engaging narrative.
William Sheehan - Washington Post


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 1000-page book intrigued and wanting more.
Chicago Times


Follett's greatest virtue as a novelist that he has been able to bring forward a writing style he perfected in his earlier thrillers.... Essentially, he's writing several interrelated books at once, without ever losing the inevitable forward impulse. And while it sounds bizarre to consider a book this huge a 'page-turner,' that's exactly what Fall of Giants is.
The Seattle Times


Fall of Giants stands with Ken Follett's best... Fall of Giants is classic Follett. It's long—almost 1,000 pages; it's populated with hundreds of characters whose lives are intertwined; it's set on a tumultuous world stage; it's a good read.... Everything in this novel is oversized, from the scope of history it covers to the characters he creates. It's a book that will suck you in, consume you for days or weeks, depending upon how quick a reader you are, then let you out the other side both entertained and educated. That's quite the feat.
USA Today


A big Book, Follett's hugely ambitious saga is a sweeping success. Ken Follett has hit another one out of the park with the initial installment of the hugely ambitious Century Trilogy. His fans will rejoice at the richness, complexity, historical sweep and simmering lust in a saga spanning the years 1911 to 1923.
Newark Star Ledger


This first in a century-spanning trilogy from bestseller Follett (Eye of the Needle) makes effective and economical use of its lead characters, despite its scope and bulk. From a huge cast, eight figures emerge to play multiple roles that illustrate and often illuminate the major events, trends, and issues of the years leading up to and immediately beyond WWI: American diplomat Gus Dewar; Earl Fitzherbert, a wealthy Englishman; Fitz's sister, Lady Maud; German military attaché Walter von Ulrich; Russian brothers Grigori and Lev Peshkov; Welsh collier Billy Williams and his sister, Ethel, whom Fitz hires as a housemaid. Ingenious plotting allows Follett to explore such salient developments of the era as coal mine safety in Wales, women's suffrage, the diplomatic blundering that led to war, the horrors of trench warfare, and the triumph of the Bolsheviks. While this tome doesn't achieve the emotional depth of the best historicals, it is a remarkable and wonderfully readable synthesis of fact and fiction.
Publishers Weekly  



Discussion Questions 
1. Before reading Fall of Giants, what did you know about World War I? Did you learn anything new upon finishing the novel?

2. Is there a custom or practice from the book's early twentieth-century time period that you wish existed in our modern day? What would it be, and why do you think it should have a place in today's world?

3. Is it significant that Fall of Giants begins with the stories of Billy and Ethel Williams? Would the novel have been different if other characters' stories opened the book, such as those of Grigori and Lev Peshkov, or Gus Dewar?

4. Talk about the historical figures that appear throughout Fall of Giants, such as Woodrow Wilson, King George V, Vladimir Lenin, and others. What did you think of Ken Follett's depiction of them? Do you like seeing notable people such as these come alive in fiction, or do you prefer reading about them in a strictly historical context?

5. When you first read about Billy Williams in chapter one, did you anticipate how his life would unfurl—for example, that he would end up in running for Parliament? What about other characters: Could you guess what some of them would end up doing or being at the book's end?

6. Do you enjoy reading epic novels such as this one? What makes them so appealing to readers, in your opinion?

7. In continuation of the above question, if you had to identify one of the main characters' stories as one that would make a good "stand-alone" novel, which would it be? Why do you think his/her story would make an enjoyable book on its own?

8. Think about the main characters and what place faith held in their lives. Did religion help or hinder their respective circumstances? What is the overall role of religion in Fall of Giants?

9. Along these lines, discuss the characters who abandoned their respective faiths. What caused them to walk away from their beliefs? To what end?

10. Follett depicts life in the early twentieth century through a series of detailed and imagery-rich scenes: the pitch-darkness of a Welsh coal mine, the opulence of an English country manor, the austerity of pre-industrial Russia, the horrors of a French battlefield. Which scenes stood out for you? Why did they make such an impression?

11. Follett writes from the vantage points of people whose home countries come to the brink of—and finally enter into—a world war. What was it like to read the perspectives of enemies as they embark on battle with one another? Did you find yourself taking sides in any way? Did reading about World War I through fiction cause you to think differently about the conflict?

12. Follett populates this novel with several strong female characters. Compare/contrast some of them; who was your favorite? Which one did you like least? Apply the same question to the book's male figures. When considering those of different backgrounds and social classes, were any of the male figures similar to one another?

13. Discuss Maud and Ethel's relationship. Did you expect them to form such a lasting bond, considering they met as mistress and servant? What did you think of the circumstances surrounding how their friendship ultimately dissolved?

14. Also contemplate Ethel and Maud's work as women's rights advocates. Were there aspects of each woman's personal life that seemed at odds with her commitment to advancing the cause of women?

15. Go back to the Aberowen mine explosion in chapter two. Do you think it's a metaphor for any of the novel's themes? How do things change in Aberowen, and elsewhere, after this disaster?

16. Discuss examples of the disparity between how women and men were treated during this era. Were women regarded better, or worse, than you imagined they'd be? How far have women come since the early 1900s? What inequalities between the sexes still persist today?

17. Think about the ways the main characters' lives intersected throughout the book. Were there any characters that didn't meet over the entirety of the novel that you wished did? Who, and why?

18. What did you think of Earl Fitzherbert at the beginning of Fall of Giants? How did he evolve as a man throughout the course of the narrative? Did your opinion of Fitz change from your initial impression of him?

19. Consider the book's title. Who or what are the "giants" of the story? How did they fall?

20. What did you think of the book's ending? Did the author succeed in wrapping up the many threads and strands in Fall of Giants? Which of the characters in Fall of Giants do you expect to be reading about in books two and three of The Century Trilogy.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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