Need a crash course on twentieth-century history? Ken Follet’s Century trilogy will teach you more about it in a week –if you’re taking up the challenge of a reading marathon- than the coffee-flavored breath of your average high school History teacher can in an entire semester!
This epos brings you a Dynasty-worthy soap of love, treason, friendship and hate that spreads across different generations of five families from all over the world. You’ll cross paths with British aristocrats, Russian immigrants, Welsh miners, American gangsters and German spies on your journey through the turbulent 20th century, spanning both world wars, the crash of Wall Street, the rise of socialism, nationalism and extremism, the Cuban crisis, the Vietnam debacle, the Cold War and more recent political turmoils. Don’t be turned off by the frankly alarming number of pages, as the fast rate of the different stories will race you through history, whilst you unconsciously imprint it all. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, which illustrates how the events were experienced by people from all over the world.
Fall of Giants (1911 – 1924)
In this first installment the classical world order gets a major blow when World War I breaks out and the European powers struggle to deal wit hits aftermath. A gloomy future that doesn’t haunt young Earl Fitzherbert –“Fitz”- when he merrily starts an affair with his bright maid Ethel Williams. A misstep that inevitably leads to an unwanted pregnancy, which has Ethel and her baby boy Lloyd fleeing to London, where Fitz’ rebellious sister and suffragette Maude also lays low in order to cover her secret marriage to German officer Walter Von Ulrich, the earl’s former best friend. Meanwhile, Russian fugitive Lev Peshkov sets foot in America, where he quickly becomes a big shot the local maffia, while his naive brother Grigori is left behind in Russia with Lev’s pregnant girlfriend Katerina. The guy inadvertently goes on to become a hero of the October revolution and soon finds himself in the highest ranks of the Bolshevik army. Over to the cultivated American Dewar family, where eldest son Gus is unhandily torn between his career as political analist and war reporter on one side, and the endless, mondain games of tennis his mother has him play to score a suitable wife on the other side.
Winter of the World (1933 – 1949)
The children of Fitz, Ethel, Maud, Grigori, Gus and co are roughly thrown into adulthood when the world tumbles into another cruel conflict at the end of the thirties: the nazi’s thundering boots are marching through Europe and communism has a firm grip on Russia. For germans such as Carla Von Ulrich, whose father Walter was murdered by the Gestapo for criticizing the regime, the horror of World War II started long before Hitler invaded Poland. American-Russian Greg Peshkov travels to the Old Continent as a spy while his sister, the seductive social climber Olga, manages to catch British political activist and bastard son of an English earl Lloyd Williams in her nets. Back home in the States, Greg starts an impossible love affair with an Afro-American women and the brothers Chuck and Woody Dewar experience the horror of war firsthand when Woody’s fiancee Joanne dies of Japanese bullets during a family holiday to paradisiac Pearl Harbour. Chuck, who is secretly homosexual, immediately joins the army, while his brother tries to tangle the conflict through his diplomatic job. Brace yourself for D-Day in Normandy, the fall of Berlin, the London Blitzkrieg, the Spanish Franco regime and the start of the Cold War.
The Edge of Eternity (1961- 2008)
The third and last chapter of the Century epos start in the midst of the Cold War in East Berlin and ends with the inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s first black president. Rebecca Hoffmann, the adoptive daughter of Carla Von Ulrich, flees to the West after getting into trouble with the almighty Stasi. Her half brother Walli plans to do the same, but gets separated from his love and their unborn child during their attempt to escape. He ends up contacting his English cousins Evie and Dave, with whom he establishes a successful rock band. American lawyer George, the son of a white father and black mother, manages to secure a job at the White House, and quickly becomes entangled in the civil rights movement. On the other side of the world, Russian twins Dimka and Tanja Dvorkin, grandchildren of the mythical general Grigori Peshkov, witness the nuclear race and Cuba crisis from an alarmingly close angle. All of this with a subversive rock ’n roll soundtrack that challenges the establishment on both sides of the Wall.
History book chapters you may by now considered digested: the American civil rights movement, the murders of both president Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam war, the rise of hippie culture, the fall of the Berlin War, the détente between East and West and the Watergate scandal.