The Pillars of the Earth

Best known for writing suspenseful spy novels, Ken Follett changed direction in The Pillars of the Earth (William Morrow, 1989), a massive piece of fiction set in early 12th-century England. The novel is a masterful weaving together of history, individual personalities, and the engineering and construction feats required to plan and build a medieval cathedral. The vivid characters bring to life the realities of politics (secular and religious), morality (and striking examples of ruthless immorality), love, economics and all strata of society during this tumultuous period. You’ll find yourself thinking about the characters and their struggles long after you’ve put the book down.