• France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Brazil

The Pillars of the Earth

In a time of civil war, famine and religious strife, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against this backdrop, lives entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age.

Ken’s view

This is my most popular book. It still sells about 100 000 copies a year in paperback in the US, it was number one in the UK and Italy and it was on the German best seller list for six years. It’s overwhelmingly the book that readers talk to me about when I meet them in bookshops. It’s becoming a cult.

When I started writing, back in the early Seventies, I found I had no vocabulary for describing buildings. I read a couple of books on architecture and developed an interest in cathedrals. I became a bit of a 'train spotter' on the subject. I would go to a town, like Lincoln or Winchester, check into a hotel and spend a couple of days looking around the cathedral and learning about it. Before too long, it occurred to me to channel this enthusiasm into a novel.

When I started talking about the idea, some of my friends were quite shocked. They said, “you know, you’ve had a lot of success with these thrillers, are you sure you want to write about building a church?”.

However, those of my friends who are writers saw immediately how the building of the church would be the spine of the story and the focus for the lives of all the characters. I knew it had to be a long book. It took at least thirty years to build a cathedral and most took longer because they would run out of money, or be attacked or invaded. So the story covers the entire lives of the main characters.

Writing Pillars of the Earth was exhausting. It is much more difficult to write one book of 400,000 words than three or four shorter books because you have to keep making up more and more stuff about the same people. Pillars of the Earth took me three years and three months and towards the end I was working Saturdays and Sundays because I thought I was never going to get it finished.

My publishers were a little nervous about such a very unlikely subject but paradoxically, it is my most popular book. It’s also the book I’m most proud of. It recreates, quite vividly, the entire life of the village and the people who live there. You feel you know the place and the people as intimately as if you yourself were living there in the middle ages.

Listen to Ken’s view of The Pillars of the Earth

Read the introduction to the 1999 edition

Excerpts and more

Read the prologue

Read the first chapter

Listen to an excerpt

See a table of the principal characters

Is Kingsbridge real?

Discussion guide for students and reading groups

See the artwork for Ken's Facebook app and for the 1999 edition by Petra Rohr-Rouendaal

The eight-hour TV mini-series

World Without End and A Column of Fire, the sequels


  • “An extraordinary epic buttressed by suspense… a mystifying puzzle involving the execution of an innocent man… the erection of a magnificent cathedral… romance, rivalry and spectacle… a monumental masterpiece… a towering triumph from a major talent!” – ALA Booklist
  • “A seesaw of tension… impeccable pacing… action, intrigue, violence and passion… a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale!” – Publishers Weekly
  • “Follett is a master.” – Washington Post
  • “A towering tale… a ripping read… there’s murder, arson, treachery, torture, love, and lust” – New York Daily News
  • “Very good… fine detail… fast-paced, engaging – an enjoyable historical thriller, well told.” – Chicago Tribune

Published as

The Pillars of the Earth has been published in 30 languages.

The first edition of Pillars of the Earth was published by William Morrow, New York in 1989. In 1999 a special collector’s edition of The Pillars of the Earth was published by Penguin to mark the 10th anniversary of the original edition, in a large-format paperback with a new introduction by Ken Follett. As of February 2015, over 25 million copies have been bought.

Also available in print, CD, audiobook and e-book formats.