A few weeks ago I was sitting at dinner in another state next to someone who works at a library, and I bemoaned the fact that Ken Follett’s Century trilogy – Fall of Giants, Winter of the World, and Edge of Eternity – had long been sitting on my bookshelf because I wanted to read them back-to-back. When I returned home, I realized that early August was actually a great time for binge reading. So reader, I read them – all 3023 pages. And the historian in me found them enthralling.
This series is a three-volume “sweeping family saga” that calls to mind Wouk’s Winds of War, although it focuses on eight decades of the twentieth century rather than simply World War II. Follett takes a great deal of license in placing key characters in the midst or at the edges of key world events, especially in the final volume. The persistent reader has to suspend reality as to the likelihood that one set of characters could possibly have had the good or bad fortune to be an eyewitness to, or a participant in, most of the major events of their lives. But that’s often the sub silentio deal you make when you undertake reading historical fiction.
What I enjoyed most about the trilogy was the degree of historical detail for events that serve as the platform for developing the characters. A reader may not be independently interested in Oswald Mosely and fascism in England in the 1930’s, the oppression of living on the East German side of the Berlin Wall, or the political machinations of the Soviet Politburo in the 1980’s, but you can’t follow the fictional characters without getting immersed in heavy doses of history. Follett reportedly had a team of historians he drew upon for accuracy, but my opinion of the accuracy of his work was bolstered the most when I learned from the end pages that his primary historical consultant was Richard Overy, one of the most preeminent historians on World War II and the twentieth century.
My favorite volume was Fall of Giants, in large part because of my interest in World War I.
Although it’s not necessary to binge-read your way through all three books at once, I do recommend that you read them in order
Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Mary Hall
Rating: Must Read