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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

>Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants: A Review, Part I

If you were one of those people who eagerly awaited the release of Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy), you are in for a nasty surprise. This book (which is supposed to be the first in a trilogy) is nothing whatsoever like The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Even though those books could teach you absolutely nothing about Medieval history, they were highly entertaining. I read both of them in a couple of days and enjoyed myself immensely.

The annoying aspects of Fall of Giants are many. I have already written about Follett’s complete disregard for facts in his depictions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the history of Russia. He also bases his book on the most tired and silly prejudices about the nations he discusses. All Germans are “orderly”, “well-organized”, punctual, and prissy. All Russians are “surly”, “primitive”, “barbaric”, “corrupt”, violent, alcoholic criminals. All Russian women are, of course, drunken whores. The only marginally acceptable Russian is the character who is obsessed with moving to the US. All Austrians are effete, perverted, weak, hysterically aggressive, unreasonable idiots. The French are weepy and useless fools. The French women are also all whores, but at least they whore around while sober. And, of course, all Jews know and help each other, forming a sort of an international Jewish mafia. All British people are insanely promiscuous (don’t ask.) The culmination of the British promiscuity is reflected in a scene where the sister of an English earl (sic!) gives a hand-job to a German attache in the opera-house behind the backs (literally) of her brother the earl, Lloyd George, and foreign dignitaries. To top it all, there are the saintly Americans who, after torturing themselves over it for hours, decide to send invading troops to Mexico in order to bring peace and democracy to the wayward Mexicans. To the Americans’ huge surprise, Mexicans are not overjoyed about the invasion and fail to be grateful to their caring neighbors to the North.

The way Follett panders to his American readers is so obsequious that it borders on disgusting. Unlike those nasty Europeans and tyrannical Mexicans, America (meaning, of course, the US) is “rich, busy, exciting, and free.” There is no anti-semitism (once again, this is taking place in 1914), workers have amazing working conditions, are rich, and enjoy running water and electricity at home. Of course, each worker has at least two rooms all to himself. (I guess, Upton Sinclair is not to be trusted in his accounts of the horrible living conditions of immigrant workers in the US at the turn of the century.) American women are not subjected. They are all independent, “free”, and have exciting careers. I wonder what happened since 1914 to change all that. Possibly, an explanation will be forthcoming in the next two books in the trilogy. The only problems that exist in the godly America are caused by the surly, criminal, promiscuous immigrants who keep trying to take advantage of the saintly Americans.

If you think that the above-mentioned things are enough to put you off the book for good, just wait for the second part of the review where I will tell you why the book is even worse than what you might have imagined based on the first part of the review.

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7 thoughts on “>Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants: A Review, Part I

  1. >I probably would not have read this book anyway, as I prefer sf and fantasy, and sometimes some nonfiction. But I am glad to have my decision validated.

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  2. >I thought the British stereotype was "we don't do the nasty".

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  3. >Hi,I am a Swiss student in history and I think that you are a total snob! If you want to have facts on the First World War or life in Russia, go out and buy yourself a history book! Ken Follett's book are about intrigues, sex, and a battle between good and evil. If you can't simply enjoy a novel, don't read it! I don't think the author pretends to be a historian, but at least he is much more pleasant to read than your over-negative blog!

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  4. >"A battle between good and evil"?? I had no idea hard drugs had been legalized in Switzerland. Careful with the intake of chemicals, buddy, 'cause you are getting too weird.

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  5. >what an intelligent argument that is! looks like you don't have much to say in answer to my comment…

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  6. >This is actually a very good review of the book, a constructed and balanced comment that does not simply mark his book as pointless: Pbwritr rated it 3 of 5 starsShelves: historical-fictionI have plodded through this book and I'm putting it down halfway through. I don't want to waste any more time on it. I have read many of Ken Follett's books, starting with Eye of the Needle and Key to Rebecca, both of which mesmerized me decades ago; Pillars of the Earth a number of years ago, which was an astoundingly fabulous tale; and World Without End. I knew the reviews of it weren't that great, but I was intrigued by it anyway. It probably makes a difference that I am a historian, with…moreI have plodded through this book and I'm putting it down halfway through. I don't want to waste any more time on it. I have read many of Ken Follett's books, starting with Eye of the Needle and Key to Rebecca, both of which mesmerized me decades ago; Pillars of the Earth a number of years ago, which was an astoundingly fabulous tale; and World Without End. I knew the reviews of it weren't that great, but I was intrigued by it anyway. It probably makes a difference that I am a historian, with a master's thesis written about a World War I topic. I found the recitation of WWI topics to be very, very boring. Yes, he did a good job of inserting characters into the historical timeline. I was rather put off that the famous Christmas armistice between the Germans and the western front just happened to take place where not one, but two of the main characters happened to be. There is no better book for understanding World War I than Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August," a riveting masterpiece of nonfiction. That book was a page-turner; Follett's is not. The characters are flat. Ethel is too much NOT like the class she grew up in. All the references and inclusions to the social changes taking place are well done, I do admit, and made the book more interesting. World War I, with its politics, leaders and generals, millions of casualties, new technologies, the utter devastation for virtually no advance–is a fascinating field, but Follett did not make the war itself come alive. One of the main tenets in writing these days is "show, don't tell." Follett does so much telling that I'm tired of being talked to. I don't think this is a particularly good book, but I liked it enough to read the first 500 pages, but I like to enjoy a book, not force myself to read it. This book was most enjoyable when it focused on the Welsh coal mining, the Russian factory workers, and Lady Maud. Some of the men seem virtually interchangeable–Walter, Fitz, Robert. I won't be reading the rest of the trilogy. For those who are unfamiliar with WWI, and I grant that that will be the majority of people, this is probabaly a very good introduction to the major events and people. A writer knows his audience, and, in my case, it just happens not to be me. So that isn't Follett's fault. I just happen to have a special affinity for WWI, and rather extensive background in its research

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  7. Pingback: >Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants: A Review, Part II « Clarissa's Blog

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