The First World War to me was always so far in the distant past, in the age of my grand-grandparents, that it never much interested me.
Then I read Fall of Giants, Ken Follett’s first book of The Century Trilogy.
Ken Follett brought history to life in his works Pillars of the Earth and World without End describing life in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He now did it again in Europe between 1910 and 1924.
Following the intertwined lives of five families in Russia, Germany, America, England and Wales, Follett gives a first-row view into the intrigues and powerplays that initially caused World War I and then kept it going for too many years, erasing an entire generation on young men all over Europe and bringing injustice and famine to millions of people all over the world.
How did labor unions become strong in England at the beginning of the century?
How was it possible that the Bolsheviks in Russia, a ragtag group of intellectuals and peasants threw out the tsar and took over the country to create a super power?
Why did Germany bully the world, and why did the world crack down on Germany with the Versailles Treaties to the point of fomenting such hate and anger in Germany to make the rise of the Nazi regime possible?
Follett’s story puts us into rooms with Lenin and Trotsky in Russia. It has us accompany the English King on social outings. We watch English society look down its nose on the common people. We spend lots of time in trenches in stalemates on the fronts between Russia and Germany, and Germany and France. We see clueless military leaders of the upper classes drive thousands of men into inevitable death of machine-gun fire.
This is how history should be taught to high school students. Reading Fall of Giants makes learning history easy and entertaining, and leaves us thirsting for more. After 985 pages of Fall of Giants, I am ready and eager to pick it up in 1924 in the second book of the trilogy which just came out.