Book Review: Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Winter of the World is the second book of Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy and is a worthy follow-up to the first book; Fall of Giants. Fall of Giants ended in January 1924, Winter of the World starts eleven years after that in 1933 and goes to 1949.

The book follows the stories of five related families; English, Welsh, German, Russian, and American as they move through what is arguably the most chaotic sixteen years of the 20th Century. Despite having a list of characters five pages long (conveniently located at the front of the book) and a rather daunting length of over nine hundred pages, the novel has a nice intimate feel to it and the persona dramatis are easily distinguished from one another.

Follett easily transitions between locations and characters. The rise of the Nazi’s, World War II and the start of the Cold War drives the narrative onward. The fictional lives of the characters fit seamlessly into the real history of the time and also with the real historical figures they encounter. Winter of the World is a far more action oriented work than Fall of Giants, but given the epoch it covers this is to be expected. The Spanish Civil War is given a lot of time and space in the book as one of the characters, Lloyd, fights for the Loyalist, but soon comes to realize that communism is just as bad as fascism.

Follett does an excellent job of portraying action sequences, with sinking of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway particularly evocative. However, even at over 900 pages and a huge cast of characters some events are barely mentioned. The most glaring example of this is the Holocaust, which is mentioned only in passing. Follett, showing his spy thriller roots, really shines in the third part of the book when dealing with Soviet espionage efforts directed at the Manhattan Project.

Of course, this emphasis on action causes some characterization and the romantic elements of the novel to be de-emphasized a bit, but not so much that the overall work suffers for it.

Further, Follett is to be commended for his attention to historical detail; recently the author said that he had read several histories of the period before starting on the book. This is all to the good as there are no glaring historical inaccuracies in the book.

To sum up Winter of the World is well worth a read. However, readers are advised to read Fall of Giants first and then be prepared to wait to see how things wrap up in the third book which is forthcoming.

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