Fall of Giants is a historical novel published in 2010 by Welsh-born author Ken Follett. It is the first in the Century Trilogy, and follows five interrelated families throughout the course of the 20th century. The first book covers notable events such as World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage. The sequel Winter of the World covers World War II and was published on September 18, 2012. The third book, Edge of Eternity, covers the Cold War and was published in 2014.
The novel begins with the thirteen-year-old Billy Williams, nicknamed Billy Twice, going to work his first day in the coal mine underneath the fictional Welsh town of Aberowen in 1911.
Three years later, the main story begins. Edward "Fitz" Fitzherbert, Earl Fitzherbert, who maintains a country estate in Aberowen and licenses the land on which the coal mine is built, hosts a party for many powerful people around the world. His guests include:Lady Maud Fitzherbert, Fitz's sister, who is far more liberal than her conservative brother.
Walter von Ulrich, a German nobleman and a former schoolmate of Fitz's. He and Maud begin at the party to act on the mutual attraction they have felt for years.
Graf (Count) Robert von Ulrich, Walter's Austrian homosexual cousin.
Gus Dewar, a highly educated American who is also a close adviser to President Woodrow Wilson.
Bea Fitzherbert, Fitz's wife, a Russian Princess.
King George V, King of the British Empire.
Mary of Teck, wife of King George V.
Major characters introduced after the party include Grigori and Lev Peshkov, two Russian orphans who work in a locomotive factory and have personal reasons to hold a grudge against Princess Bea and the rest of the Russian royal family. Grigori and Lev's father was executed by Bea's aristocratic family for alleged improper grazing of cattle on Bea's family's land.
The overall theme of the novel revolves around common people trying, and many times succeeding, in throwing off the yokes so often placed on them by a society (largely focused on Britain and Russia) dominated by the landed aristocracy.
There are several key themes in this novel. Follett has done a remarkable job in linking several key facets in world history at this point. They include the causes of the 1st World War, the collapse of Imperial Russia, and Germany's role in the continuance of a bloody war that led to economic collapse and the rise of Hitler.
Regarding Russian history, he portrays Lenin's role in the rise of the Bolsheviks as a ploy of the German intelligence service as an attempt to divide and conquer Russian resistance on the eastern front. He does not clearly explain the rise of Stalin as Lenin died. This may be better explained in the second volume (he does this at about page 500 of Volume 2, which seems to understate the role of Stalin in Europe and US history).
Throughout the novel, several chapters are devoted to the rise of women's rights in Britain and role of the Labour party in promoting issues affecting worker safety in a mining accident in Wales.
Through these chapters, he displays the considerable differences in social status of the miners and the owners of the mines in quality of life, health and education. With tragic accuracy, Follett reviews the misery and suffering of soldiers in the trench warfare of the time, including, poison gas, futile charges against artillery and machine gun posts etc. the war continues, thousands are slain and the so-called leaders continued to promote it as a victorious exercise. Follett focuses on how industrial interests on both sides benefited from the war, continuing it as factory production went up and the dead were brought back to England.
The book explores background of Germany at the time, the costs of their endless efforts to "win" leading to a loss that later was cause for a forlorn corporal, Adolf Hitler, to seek his own revenge for the economic devastation of the Weimar Republic under the settlement treaty.
The characters and their extended families find their fortunes changing for the better and for the worse due to both their interactions with each other and the effects of the First World War.
The book received generally mixed to favourable reviews, lauding the extensive historical research that has been intertwined into the narrative.