Uncommonly Good Books Read by Two Common Guys – Fall of Giants

Nate:  Today we’re discussing the book, “Fall of Giants” by Ken Follett. This is a work of historical fiction, and is the first of three books in what Follett is calling The Century Trilogy. This particular book takes place in the period of history right before, during, and after World War I. One thing that really impresses me with Follett’s historical fiction, is his attention to detail, including the precise whereabouts of characters at specific moments in time.

Dave:  I agree. Follett says at the end of the book that he has done a lot of research to make sure that the real characters in the book, such as Winston Churchill, Lenin, and Woodrow Wilson are only placed in places where he knows they were at the time, or that they could have potentially been. When he did an author talk here at the library several years ago, he said that he spends a great deal of time, and actually has a staff doing research for him, to ensure that the historical details in his books are completely accurate.

Nate:  I’m not an expert on this period in time, but I did happen to read a couple of books not too long ago about World War I, most notably “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman, and I can say that his descriptions of the political situation leading up to the start of the war, as well as the Battle of the Marne are about as accurate as you can get. He gets incredibly detailed, and I didn’t find one thing that I could say was not true. So in my opinion, the research is impeccable.

Dave:  One thing I enjoyed about this book was the way the story portrayed the changes in the world during this time. I’m not an expert on the first quarter of the 20th Century either, but you get a real sense of the changes that were happening politically, as well as the new ideas that were popping up and being hailed by all levels of society.

Nate:  And that’s one of the great things about this book, as well as some of Follett’s other historical fiction, is that he has characters representing all of the different classes in society. He has rich European aristocrats, middle to upper class Americans, poor English miners, poor working class Russians, and middle class Europeans. But one thing that makes “Fall of Giants” so interesting, and the title so appropriate, is what you said about the changes taking place during this time period. One of the most radical changes that has taken place over the past few centuries is the fall of the “old world” monarchies and aristocracies. And much of this change happened during and after World War I.

Dave:  Absolutely. And you also had new ideas, such as the rights of workers, women’s suffrage, and socialism. Put all of that together and it was an explosive time, which is why “Fall of Giants” is so interesting. I have to say that in some of Ken Follett’s books the love scenes and descriptions of violence can be somewhat graphic, but in this particular one they weren’t. So if anyone has concerns about reading a book by Follett because of that, you wouldn’t have to worry about that in this particular book.

Nate:  The other thing I would say about Ken Follett is that he is also widely known as a writer of suspense/thriller/spy novels. He’s recently come to the historical fiction genre, beginning with “The Pillars of the Earth” and “World Without End”, and now continuing on with “Fall of Giants”. But there might be those out there who think of Ken Follett as a writer of spy novels, and that really isn’t the case anymore.

Dave:  That’s true. He’s kind of re-invented himself, and now is largely dedicated to writing historical fiction in the style of the sweeping epics. The other thing that could keep people away from “Fall of Giants” is its size.

Nate:  It’s over 1,000 pages, but it actually reads pretty quickly. There really isn’t any filler – and by that I mean you couldn’t take out a couple hundred pages and still have the same book. It really is a 1,000 page story, and you won’t be bored.

Dave:  For me personally, I found the middle of the book which focused on World War I to be the most interesting because of the strategies of the war. I found it especially interesting that the separation of the classes was evident even in the military.

Nate:  Yeah, all of the majors and lieutenants were aristocrats – many of whom had no real military experience, and all of the privates and those on the front lines were the workers and miners back home. Class divisions were evident on the battlefield, just as they were everywhere else.

Dave:  I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel to this book which is supposed to be coming out sometime in September, I believe.

Nate:  And it’s definitely foreshadowed that the second book will take place around World War II. At the end of “Fall of Giants” Hitler and Stalin are mentioned, and there are a few other items referenced that lead you to believe that is where the story is headed.

Dave:  The nice thing about the book though, is that you don’t necessarily have to read the whole trilogy. If you were to just read “Fall of Giants”, and you didn’t want to continue in the series that would be just fine. There’s no cliffhanger ending that will be resolved in the next book. It has a definite ending point. So if you would be concerned about reading this book and getting sucked into a trilogy, that’s not the case at all.

Nate:  I think the great thing about “Fall of Giants”, as with other historical fiction, is that you’re not only reading a great book of fiction, with interesting characters, but you’re also learning a lot about the time period in which the book is set.

Dave:  True, and I’d be interested in knowing from other people who read a lot of historical fiction how they think Ken Follett’s books rank with other well known authors who write similarly, such as James Michener and Leon Uris. I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, so I’d be interested to know how they think Follett compares.

Nate:  I haven’t read much historical fiction either, and really have only read Follett, starting with “The Pillars of the Earth”. So like you, I would be interested in knowing how he rates with some of the other pre-eminent authors of the genre. I do think anyone who enjoys historical fiction would enjoy “Fall of Giants”.

Dave:  I agree. It’s a book that will grab the interest of anyone interested in a good novel set in the past.

  • Terry Miller

    Nice discussion. I really liked this book, as well as the previous Follett books you mentioned. I never could read Michener, as I could never get past his tedious account of every occurrence that took place before the current story. He would be clipping along, then digress into a boring narration of (e.g.)the formation of the Hawaiian Islands beginning with the first volcanic eruption. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh. Follett maintains a nice balance of backstory and action and character development. I read a lot of historical fiction, and I think he holds his own. I will definitely read the following two books of the trilogy.