Reading guide for Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

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Fall of Giants

Book One of the Century Trilogy

by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2010, 985 pages
    Aug 2011, 1008 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Fall of Giants is his magnificent new historical epic. The first novel in The Century Trilogy, it follows the fates of five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they move through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

Thirteen-year-old Billy Williams enters a man's world in the Welsh mining pits… Gus Dewar, an American law student rejected in love, finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson's White House… two orphaned Russian brothers, Grigori and Lev Peshkov, embark on radically different paths half a world apart when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution… Billy's sister, Ethel, a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts, takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German embassy in London…

These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as, in a saga of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, Fall of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St. Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty. As always with Ken Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. It is destined to be a new classic.

In future volumes of The Century Trilogy, subsequent generations of the same families will travel through the great events of the rest of the twentieth century, changing themselves—and the century itself. With passion and the hand of a master, Follett brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.


Ken Follett is the author of seventeen bestsellers, from the groundbreaking Eye of the Needle, and is one of the world's most popular novelists. He has sold approximately 90 million books. He lives in England with his wife, Barbara.

  1. Before reading Fall of Giants, what did you know about World War I? Did you learn anything new upon finishing the novel?

  2. Is there a custom or practice from the book's early twentieth-century time period that you wish existed in our modern day? What would it be, and why do you think it should have a place in today's world?

  3. Is it significant that Fall of Giants begins with the stories of Billy and Ethel Williams? Would the novel have been different if other characters' stories opened the book, such as those of Grigori and Lev Peshkov, or Gus Dewar?

  4. Talk about the historical figures that appear throughout Fall of Giants, such as Woodrow Wilson, King George V, Vladimir Lenin, and others. What did you think of Ken Follett's depiction of them? Do you like seeing notable people such as these come alive in fiction, or do you prefer reading about them in a strictly historical context?

  5. When you first read about Billy Williams in chapter one, did you anticipate how his life would unfurl—for example, that he would end up in running for Parliament? What about other characters: Could you guess what some of them would end up doing or being at the book's end?

  6. Do you enjoy reading epic novels such as this one? What makes them so appealing to readers, in your opinion?

  7. In continuation of the above question, if you had to identify one of the main characters' stories as one that would make a good "stand-alone" novel, which would it be? Why do you think his/her story would make an enjoyable book on its own?

  8. Think about the main characters and what place faith held in their lives. Did religion help or hinder their respective circumstances? What is the overall role of religion in Fall of Giants?

  9. Along these lines, discuss the characters who abandoned their respective faiths. What caused them to walk away from their beliefs? To what end?

  10. Follett depicts life in the early twentieth century through a series of detailed and imagery-rich scenes: the pitch-darkness of a Welsh coal mine, the opulence of an English country manor, the austerity of pre-industrial Russia, the horrors of a French battlefield. Which scenes stood out for you? Why did they make such an impression?

  11. Follett writes from the vantage points of people whose home countries come to the brink of—and finally enter into—a world war. What was it like to read the perspectives of enemies as they embark on battle with one another? Did you find yourself taking sides in any way? Did reading about World War I through fiction cause you to think differently about the conflict?

  12. Follett populates this novel with several strong female characters. Compare/contrast some of them; who was your favorite? Which one did you like least? Apply the same question to the book's male figures. When considering those of different backgrounds and social classes, were any of the male figures similar to one another?

  13. Discuss Maud and Ethel's relationship. Did you expect them to form such a lasting bond, considering they met as mistress and servant? What did you think of the circumstances surrounding how their friendship ultimately dissolved?

  14. Also contemplate Ethel and Maud's work as women's rights advocates. Were there aspects of each woman's personal life that seemed at odds with her commitment to advancing the cause of women?

  15. Go back to the Aberowen mine explosion in chapter two. Do you think it's a metaphor for any of the novel's themes? How do things change in Aberowen, and elsewhere, after this disaster?

  16. Discuss examples of the disparity between how women and men were treated during this era. Were women regarded better, or worse, than you imagined they'd be? How far have women come since the early 1900s? What inequalities between the sexes still persist today?

  17. Think about the ways the main characters' lives intersected throughout the book. Were there any characters that didn't meet over the entirety of the novel that you wished did? Who, and why?

  18. What did you think of Earl Fitzherbert at the beginning of Fall of Giants? How did he evolve as a man throughout the course of the narrative? Did your opinion of Fitz change from your initial impression of him?

  19. Consider the book's title. Who or what are the "giants" of the story? How did they fall?

  20. What did you think of the book's ending? Did the author succeed in wrapping up the many threads and strands in Fall of Giants? Which of the characters in Fall of Giants do you expect to be reading about in books two and three of The Century Trilogy?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of NAL. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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