Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants takes a fascinating period of early 20th century history and gives it personality by following the lives of a number of characters from different countries and different social classes. This book is book one of Ken Follett’s century trilogy, and the other two books, when published, will deal with other events of the 20th century and include descendants of the main characters in this book.

The book follows the lives of the members of 5 different families from 5 different countries, beginning in 1911 – with most of Europe still under aristocratic rule, building up to and including the First World War and ending in 1923 – with Labor women in the British parliament, the Bolsheviks ruling Russia, and Hitler just starting to emerge in poverty stricken Germany. Along the way, many famous people, from all the countries involved, are woven into the story. And, I’m sure that many who are briefly mentioned such as Hitler, Stalin and Churchill will be more prominent in subsequent books.

Earl Fitzherbert is a conservative British aristocrat who is married to a Russian princess with family ties to the Tsar. They live a life of extreme wealth and are convinced that they are superior to the ‘lower classes’ and even to the aristocracy of other countries. The Earl’s sister, Maud, is a renegade. She is a suffragette and believes in social justice. She falls in love with a German aristocrat, Walter Von Ulrich.

Walter Von Ulrich, working as a spy in England, does everything in his power to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis gripping Europe. He is at odds with his father, Otto Von Ulrich, who is very conservative and a close friend of the Kaiser. As war approaches, Walter and Maud must keep their relationship hidden.

Billy and Ethel Williams are from a Welsh coal mining family. Billy first starts work in the mines on his 13th birthday. He later fights in the war under Earl Fitzherbert. Ethel workd as a maid for the Fitzherbert family until circumstances make this impossible.

Grigori and Lev Peshkov are brothers living in St Petersburg. Their father was executed for a trivial crime, and their mother was shot during riots in 1905 (Bloody Sunday). They end up leading very different lives with one moving to America and the other becoming a critical part of the Russian revolution.

Gus Dewer is from an ‘old-money’ family in the US. His father is a friend of president Woodrow Wilson, and Gus ends up working for the president.

The book, through its characters, gives a good impression of the times without overdoing it. Life in the trenches was covered without being dragged out to soggy monotony. I found it a fascinating way to read about the history of the time, and I am looking forward to the other two books of the trilogy. As an Australian, I would have enjoyed seeing an Australian or two during the war.


Book Published 2010


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Filed under Book Reviews, Family Saga, Follett, Ken, Historical, Series Fiction, War

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