Ken Follett is everywhere. His 36 books have sold over 178 million copies in 80+ countries and been translated into 33 languages. His first bestseller, written over 40 years ago, is still selling strong. Whether he’s keeping readers glued to the page with tales of spies, Nazis, and CIA ops, spinning out spellbinding epics about the construction of a medieval cathedral, or weaving together global conflict and family drama, readers can be certain Ken Follett’s books will be filled with memorable characters, unpredictable plot twists, and page-turning anticipation.
Are you ready to discover Ken Follett?
Follett’s Early Life and Education
Bestselling author Ken Follett is the son of a Welsh tax inspector. He was born in 1949 in Cardiff, Wales. He currently lives in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, with his wife, Barbara. He enjoys reading, spending time with his five children and six grandchildren, and playing his bass guitar.
Ken studied at University College in London, where he earned an Honors degree in philosophy. His first job out of school was reporting for the South Wales Echo. He then moved around a bit, finally settling in at publishing house Everest Books, where he eventually became a Deputy Managing Director.
Though writing was always his goal, his career began in earnest after experiencing serious car trouble while struggling to support his young family. He needed to earn 200 pounds to pay for the repair and decided the best way forward was to write a thriller and submit it to a publisher for an advance. (He had a friend who’d successfully managed this feat, so it seemed like a reasonable plan.) This first manuscript was accepted by a publisher and did pay enough money to fix the car.
Mr. Follett wrote nine more novels, each successively better, but his first major success came with the Eye of the Needle in 1978, his eleventh attempt. This book, a WWII page-turner, received the Edgar Award in 1979 for the Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, is still widely read, and remains one of Ken’s most popular books today. Fun fact: Mr. Follett’s first novels were written under the pseudonym Simon Miles at the suggestion of his publisher, who made the recommendation just in case Mr. Follett managed to write something better in the future. Good advice.
Mr. Follett continued to produce outstanding thrillers, but at the back of his mind danced a desire to write about cathedrals, a personal passion. His publisher was unsure; could Ken leap from writing about spies and secret agents to writing about building a church?
The answer to this question came in 1989 when The Pillars of the Earth was published. In Pillars, Ken captivates readers with a medieval saga surrounding the building of a cathedral in Kingsbridge. Since this book reached bestseller lists around the globe, became a major television series, and led to two sequels and one prequel, it seems clear that Mr. Follett was, indeed, able to make this leap successfully.
Mr. Follett’s imagination leads him to tell fictional stories about real things. For example, in Eye of the Needle, he began by imagining what would have happened had the Germans had a spy in England who discovered the Allies’ deceptions regarding the D-Day invasions. Could that one individual have changed history? His imagination also drives Ken to create characters that seem very real to the reader while not real in the historical sense.
Authors don’t have special knowledge, or at any rate not much; what we have is imagination, and we use that to try to get inside the skin of characters and understand why the things they do seem right to them.Ken Follett
In all his books, you’ll find characters that are human. They fall in love, fall out of love, go to war, yearn for power, lust after money, keep secrets, struggle with faith, and seek revenge. Whether you love a great spy novel or relish soaking up epic family dramas, Ken Follett has a story for you.
Let’s take a closer look at the work of Ken Follett.
The Stand-Alone Novels
Mr. Follett wrote a number of novels filled with intrigue, passion, and split-second suspense. Here’s a closer look at just three favorites:
The Key to Rebecca, 1980
Mr. Follett was inspired by Johannes Eppler, a real-life Nazi spy based in Cairo with the task of providing Rommel with critical intelligence. Folllett creates his interpretation of Eppler Wolff and gives him German and Bedouin heritage plus an ability to blend seamlessly with Egyptian elites. With the help of this background plus a decidedly sadistic streak, Wolff unearths and delivers intelligence to the Nazis and drives many of Rommel’s greatest battle victories.
Can a single, somewhat down on his luck English officer and a young Jewish girl stop the evil Wolff from influencing the course of the war? Readers for over 40 years have enjoyed finding out the answer, making this arguably one of the best spy novels ever written.
Bonus: If you’re a fan of Daphne du Maurier, you’ll love the many references to her gothic classic Rebecca.
On Wings of Eagles, 1983
This is the story of the real-life rescue of Americans from a Tehran prison at the start of the Iranian revolution. The two Americans worked for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and were arrested in Iran on suspicion of bribery.
Bail was set at $13M, and the president of EDS—none other than H. Ross Perot—determined to extract his employees at any cost. Perot hired a retired US Army officer to lead a team of volunteers from the EDS executive team to rescue the men. If you want proof that truth is stranger than fiction, look no further than this riveting account.
Are you on the hunt for another great story about women during WWII? If so, Jackdaws is the book for you. “Flick” Clairet is a senior SOE agent with special expertise in sabotage. Her next assignment is to disrupt Axis communications by taking down the largest telephone network in Europe. When a head-on assault goes awry, Flick responds by assembling a team of remarkable women to infiltrate the exchange and get the job done another way.
The Knightsbridge Series by Ken Follett
There are four books in this series:
The original three books in the Pillars series are set in feudal England during the Middle Ages, where walled towns and vast forests fill the landscape. Amidst war, famine, and strife, Tom Builder, a talented mason, and Philip, the prior of Knightsbridge, embark on a project to build the greatest cathedral in the world. What follows is a struggle of epic proportions.
In 2020, Mr. Follett released The Evening and the Morning, a prequel to the first Pillars novel. It’s 997 CE, and the Dark Ages are just ending. Life in England is hard, and conflict is closing in on all sides. A young boat builder, a Norman noblewoman, and an ambitious monk meet a ruthless bishop bent on building wealth and power at any cost. This book ends where Pillars began. You can read it first or last; either way, you won’t be able to put it down.
An award-winning mini-series was made of Pillars starring Matthew Macfadyen and Ian McShane and the books regularly appear on the BBC’s lists of England’s best-loved novels. The novels have sold millions of copies and been translated so readers all over the world can enjoy this amazing story.
The Century Series by Ken Follett
This series contains three books:
Wanting to write more epic historical fiction but somewhat exhausted by the Middle Ages, Mr. Follett jumped forward in time to the 20th century and its global conflicts. Fall focuses on the WWI era, Winter on WWII, and Edge on the Cold War.
The books can be read alone or in sequence. All are stories of personal drama choreographed alongside major historical events attempting to explore this single question: What price will individuals pay for freedom?
Discover Ken Follett
Have you read Ken Follett? Explore Ken Follett’s many varied titles at Discover Books today. With free shipping when you spend $12 and prices as low as $3.85, all of the Knightsbridge books are well within reach. Just be prepared – at nearly 1000 pages each, once you jump in, you might not resurface for days. If spy novels are more your speed, you have plenty of Follett titles to choose from as well. Start your next reading marathon at Discover Books.