Ken Follett was born on June 5, 1949, in Cardiff, Wales, the son of a tax inspector. He was educated at state schools and graduated from University College, London, with an honors degree in philosophy. (He was made a fellow of the college in 1995.)
Follett became a reporter, first with his hometown newspaper, the South Wales Echo, and later with the London Evening News. While with the Evening News, he published his first novel, which was not a best-seller. He then went to work for a small publishing house in London, Everest Books, eventually becoming deputy managing director while continuing to write novels in his spare time.
Follett first hit the best-seller lists in 1978 with Eye of the Needle, a taut and original thriller with a memorable woman character in the central role. It was his 11th book, and his first success. The book won the Edgar award and was made into an outstanding film starring Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland.
He went on to write four more best-selling thrillers: Triple, The Key to Rebecca, The Man from St Petersburg and Lie Down with Lions. Cliff Robertson and David Soul starred in the miniseries of The Key to Rebecca. In 1994, Timothy Dalton, Omar Sharif, and Marg Helgenberger starred in the miniseries of Lie Down with Lions.
Ken Follett also wrote On Wings of Eagles, the true story of how two employees of Ross Perot were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979. It was made into a miniseries with Richard Crenna as Ross Perot and Burt Lancaster as Colonel "Bull" Simons.
Follett then surprised readers by radically changing course with The Pillars of the Earth, a novel about the building of a cathedral during the Middle Ages. Published to rave reviews in September 1989, it was on the New York Times best-seller list for 18 weeks. It also reached the number one position on lists in Canada, Great Britain and Italy, and was on the German best-seller list for an amazing six years. Pillars, in fact, was voted the third-greatest book ever written by some 250,000 viewers of the German television station ZDF in 2004, beaten only by The Lord of the Rings and the Bible. A similar poll conducted by the BBC ranked it 33 on a list of the 100 greatest novels.
What inspired Ken Follett to write The Pillars of the Earth?
More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.