The Pillars of the Earth Book Summary

by Ken Follett4


A riveting historical epic set in 12th-century England, The Pillars of the Earth follows an ambitious monk, a conflicted mason, and a noblewoman haunted by secrets, as they strive to build a magnificent Gothic cathedral amidst political and social upheaval.

What is The Pillars of the Earth about

The Pillars of the Earth, a monumental masterpiece by Ken Follett, tells the captivating story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, who is determined to build the world’s greatest Gothic cathedral. The narrative weaves through the lives of Tom the mason, who becomes Philip's architect, and Lady Aliena, a noblewoman burdened by a secret shame. Set in the tumultuous 12th century England, the book explores themes of ambition, power, and the eternal struggle between good and evil. With its vast historical scope and deeply human characters, the novel stands as a landmark work in Follett’s career, showcasing his mastery of storytelling and historical detail.

The Pillars of the Earth 7 Key Takeaways

Introduction of Characters

The story introduces Philip, a devout monk; Tom, a skilled mason; and Lady Aliena, a noblewoman with a mysterious past. Their lives intertwine around the ambitious project of constructing a cathedral.

Philip’s Vision

Philip, the newly appointed prior of Kingsbridge, dreams of building the greatest Gothic cathedral. His vision sets the stage for the novel's central conflict and unites the main characters.

Tom’s Struggles

Tom Builder faces numerous challenges, both personal and professional, as he takes on the role of master builder. His internal conflicts mirror the societal upheavals of the time.

Lady Aliena’s Secret

Lady Aliena’s life is marked by disgrace and hardship, but she remains resilient. Her secret past and quest for vengeance add layers of intrigue and depth to the narrative.

Political Intrigue

The construction of the cathedral is fraught with political and social obstacles. The struggle between church and state, and the personal ambitions of powerful individuals, create a rich tapestry of conflict.


As tensions reach a peak, the characters face their greatest trials. The fate of the cathedral and the lives of those involved hang in the balance, leading to a dramatic and emotional climax.


The novel concludes with the completion of the cathedral and the resolution of personal and political conflicts. The characters find a semblance of peace and fulfillment, underscoring the enduring human spirit.

The Pillars of the Earth Videos

The Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett Book Review & Reaction

The Pillars of the Earth Best Reviews

  • “An extraordinary epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power. Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “A monumental masterpiece that changed the course of Ken Follett’s career, The Pillars of the Earth is as moving and thought-provoking as it is grand in scope.” — Booklist

Top The Pillars of the Earth Quotes

  • “The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.”
  • “Having faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”

Who should read The Pillars of the Earth?

The Pillars of the Earth is ideal for readers who enjoy historical fiction, epic sagas, and intricate character development. Fans of medieval history and architectural marvels will find the book particularly engrossing.

About the Author

Ken Follett is a Welsh author known for his captivating historical novels and thrilling suspense stories. He gained worldwide acclaim with The Pillars of the Earth, which marked a significant departure from his previous works. Follett has since written several sequels and prequels to the Kingsbridge series, further cementing his reputation as a master storyteller. His novels are praised for their meticulous research, intricate plots, and rich characterizations, making him a beloved figure in contemporary literature.

The Pillars of the Earth FAQs

What is The Pillars of the Earth about?

The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, a devout monk, Tom, a conflicted mason, and Lady Aliena, a noblewoman with a secret past, as they strive to build a magnificent Gothic cathedral amidst 12th-century England's political and social turmoil.

How many Pillars of the Earth books are there?

The Pillars of the Earth is the first book in Ken Follett's Kingsbridge Series. There are three sequels and a prequel, each set in Kingsbridge during different centuries, published between 2007 and 2023.

Is Pillars of the Earth based on a true story?

While The Pillars of the Earth is a work of fiction, it incorporates real-life characters and historical events, such as King Stephen at the battle of Lincoln and the murder of Thomas Becket.