Fall of Giants (Follett)

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

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—(see below)
Currently—lives in Hertfordshire, England

Kenneth Martin Follett is a Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels who has sold more than 150 million copies of his works. Many of his books have reached number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list, including Edge of Eternity, Fall of Giants, A Dangerous Fortune, The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, Triple, Winter of the World, and World Without End.

Early years
Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, the first child of four children, to Martin Follett, a tax inspector, and Lavinia (Veenie) Follett. Barred from watching films and television by his Plymouth Brethren parents, he developed an early interest in reading but remained an indifferent student until he entered his teens. His family moved to London when he was ten years old, and he began applying himself to his studies at Harrow Weald Grammar School and Poole Technical College.

He won admission in 1967 to University College London, where he studied philosophy and became involved in center-left politics. He married his wife Mary in 1968, and their son was born in the same year. After graduating in the autumn of 1970, Follett took a three-month post-graduate course in journalism, working as a trainee reporter in Cardiff on the South Wales Echo.  A daughter was born in 1973.

After three years in Cardiff, Follett returned to London as a general-assignment reporter for the Evening News. He eventually left journalism for publishing, having found it unchallenging, and by the late 1970s became deputy managing director of the small London publisher Everest Books.

During that time, Follett began writing fiction as a hobby during evenings and weekends. Later, he said he began writing books when he needed extra money to fix his car, and the publisher's advance a fellow journalist had been paid for a thriller was the sum required for the repairs. Success came gradually at first, but the 1978 publication of Eye of the Needle, became an international bestseller and sold over 10 million copies, earning Follett wealth and international fame.

Each of Follett's subsequent novels, some 30, has become a best-seller, ranking high on the New York Times Best Seller list. The first five best sellers were fictional spy thrillers. Another bestseller, On Wings of Eagles (1983), is a true story based on the rescue of two of Ross Perot's employees from Iran during the 1979 revolution.

Kingsbridge series
For the most part, Follett continued writing spy thrillers, interspersed with historical novels. But he usually returned to espionage. Then in 1989, Follett surprised his readers with his first non-spy thriller, The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a novel about building a cathedral in a small English village during the Anarchy in the 12th century.

Pillars was wildly successful, received positive reviews, and stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 18 weeks. All told, (internationally and domestically), it has sold 26 million copies and even inspired a 2017 computer game by Daedalic Entertainment of Germany.

Two sequels followed a number of years later — in 2007 and 2017. World Without End (2007) returns to Kingsbridge 200 years after Pillars and focuses on lives devastated by the Black Death. A Column of Fire (2017), a romance and novel of political intrigue, is set in the mid-16th century — a time when Queen Elizabeth finds herself beset by plots to dethrone her.

Century trilogy
Follett initiated his Century trilogy in 2010. The series traces five interrelated families — American, German, Russian, English and Welsh — as they move through world-shaking events, beginning with World War I and the Russian Revolution, up through the rise of the Third Reich and World War II, and into the Cold War era and civil-rights movements.

A number of Follett's novels have been made into movies and TV mini series. Eye of the Needle was made into an acclaimed film, starring Donald Sutherland. Seven novels have been adapted as mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles, The Third Twin (rights were sold for a then-record price of $1,400,000), The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and A Dangerous Fortune.

Follett also had a cameo role as the valet in The Third Twin and later as a merchant in The Pillars of the Earth.

2013 - Grand Master at the Edgar Awards (New York)
2012 - Que Leer Prize-Best Translation (Spain) - Winter of the World
2010 - Libri Golden Book Award-Best Fiction (Hungary) - Fall of Giants
2010 - Grand Master,  Thrillerfest (New York)
2008 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Exeter
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - University of Glamorgan
2007 - Honorary Doctor of Literature - Saginaw Valley State University
2003 - Corine Literature Prize (Bavaria) - Jackdaws
1999 - Premio Bancarella Literary Prize (Italy) - Hammer of Eden
1979 - Edgar Award-Best Novel - Eye of the Needle

Personal life
During the late 1970s, Follett became involved in the activities of Britain's Labour Party when he met the former Barbara Broer, a Labour Party official. Broer became his second wife in 1984.

Follett, an amateur musician, plays bass guitar for Damn Right I Got the Blues. He occasionally plays a bass balalaika with the folk group Clog Iron. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/4/2017.)

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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