Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett. Dutton (New York, 2010). 985 pp., $36.00.

How can a book reviewer say much about a 985-page tome in a short column like this? Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants is Book One of the Century Trilogy. If the rest of the trilogy is as exciting to read as this one, readers are in for a treat. 

Ken Follett

Fall of Giants is a mixture of history and fiction. Follett explains how he draws the line between history and fiction. “My rule is: either the scene did happen, or it might have; either these words were used, or they might have been. And if I find some reason why the scene could not have taken place in real life, or the words would not really have been said — if, for example, the character was in another country at the time — I leave it out.” 

The story begins on June 22, 1911, the day King George V is crowned at Westminster Abby in London, and ends in January 1924. Also on June 22, 1911, Billy Williams, age 13, enters the coal mine in Aberowen, South Wales, and begins his working life by becoming an apprentice collier. The reader will follow Williams, and his sister, Ethel, throughout the novel. 

Ethel works for the Earl Fitzherbert, married to Russian princess Elizaveta. Fitzherbert’s sister, Lady Maud, falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a military attaché at the German embassy in London. Before she comes to Great Britain, the Russian princess is present for the hanging of the father of Grigori Peshkov and his brother, Lev, at the hands of prince Andrei, Elizaveta’s brother.  

Thus, Follett sets the stage for the inter-family strife that will accompany what is known as World War I. Besides Follett’s fictional characters that bring to life the events that lead up to and through to the end of the World War I, the author includes real historical characters, like Woodrow Wilson; Winston Churchill, M.P.; Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party; and more. A “Cast of Characters,” arranged by country, fills the first six pages of the book, enabling the reader to refer to any particular character in the narrative. 

There is a master’s artistry to Follett’s narratives and dialogues. The story moves seamlessly from one country to another and from one character to another, a technique that makes the reader want to continue. Switching from car to car on a train, the reader gets to know many different characters, understand them, and emote with them, and see the tragedy of war through their eyes. 

In subsequent volumes in this trilogy, descendants of the families in Fall of Giants will make their way through the rest of the 20th century. There are good books, and there are excellent books; this one falls into the latter category. 

In a very different vein is Robert J. Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010, 320 pp., $28.00). Subtitled Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, the work is a tedious read but well worth the effort. 

Spitzer takes on contemporary culture. In the introduction, he writes, “The last few years have seen several books championing agnosticism or atheism making their way into the popular press.” He states, “These books leave most informed readers quite baffled, because they ignore the vast majority (if not the entirety) of the considerable evidence for theism provided by physics and philosophy during the last few decades.” 

He continues, “This evidence is capable of grounding reasonable and responsible belief in a super-intelligent, transcendent, creative power that stands at the origins of our universe or any hypothetically postulate multiverse.” He finishes the first paragraph of the introduction, writing, “The main purpose of this book is to give a brief synopsis of this evidence to readers who are interested in exploring the strongest rational foundation for faith that has come to light in human history.” TP 

Father Boyer, a priest for 36 years, is the author of 33 books primarily in the areas of biblical and liturgical spirituality as well as numerous articles in various magazines, including The Priest, for which he wrote Homily Backgrounds 1987-1993. He teaches in the Religious Studies Department of Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.