When I saw that The Pillars Of The Earth fills almost a thousand pages, I put reading this book on the bottom of my list of things to do. I don't have a lot of free time available to me, and I'm not terribly good at making efficient use of what free time I do have. I tend to have many ambitions that I never get started on, and the ones I do start on don't usually get finished. Reading Pillars Of The Earth didn't look like it was going to happen for me. Instead of reading a single thousand page book, I thought that it would make more sense to read several shorter books. Of course, that didn't happen either.

Eventually on a whim I did pick up the book and start to read it. I don't want to use a cliche, but this was for me a book which I simply couldn't stop reading. This doesn't happen often for me. I was surprised to discover that I did have the time, after all, to read a thousand page book, and to do so in a matter of just a few weeks.

This is an unusual book. I'm not an experienced literary critic, so I'm sure that there are better descriptions out there, but all I can say is simply that this book is surprisingly easy to read. There's something about the story telling style in this book that makes it an effortless read. The progression of the stories of the various characters is organic and natural. The progression and organization of the overall tableau presented by this book is likewise organic and natural. I believe that the pleasing easy-to-read and easy-to-digest organization of this story telling stems from the basic concept which was the inspiration for this book: The author states that this book grew out of his urge to explore the experience and background of the people involved in the building of Europe's cathedral churches. Bound by this mandate, the story was compelled to emulate the evolution and organization we find naturally occurring in human culture. In my opinion, this is why this book is so easy to read and understand, and also why it makes such a significant impact on the reader. This book brings alive the culture of the time period.

I would characterize Pillars Of The Earth as anthropological fiction. It's part fiction and part faithful exercise in cultural and archaeological anthropology. If you have ever grasped an artifact, and in so doing intuitively sensed wisps of information embedded in that artifact about the people who created it, and if you have been fascinated by and drawn to know more about the experience and the culture of those people, then you have a sense of what this book is about. It is that anthropological spirit which guides this book.

     Copied from Follett's web site:

       [...] Then I came across The Cathedral Builders by Jean Gimpel. Gimpel, the black sheep of a family of French art dealers, was as impatient as I with discussions about whether a clerestory 'worked' aesthetically. His book was about the dirt-poor hovel-dwellers who actually put up these fabulous buildings. He read the payroll records of French monasteries, and took an interest in who the builders were and how much money they made. He was the first person to notice, for example, that a significant minority of the names were female. The medieval church was sexist, but women as well as men built the cathedrals.
     Another work of Gimpel's, The Medieval Machine, taught me that the Middle Ages were a time of rapid high-tech innovation, during which the power of watermills was harnessed for a wide variety of industrial applications. Soon I was taking an interest in medieval life in general. I began to get a picture of how the building of the great cathedrals must have seemed like the right thing to do for medieval people.
     The explanation is not simple. It is a little like trying to understand why twentieth-century people spent so much money exploring outer space. In both cases, a whole network of influences operated: scientific curiosity, commercial interests, political rivalries, and the spiritual aspirations of earthbound people. It seemed to me there was only one way to map that network: by writing a novel.

So why should you read this book? One word: Immersion.

If you want to learn about a complicated subject, the best way to do so is to immerse yourself in it. Take for example the question of learning a foreign language. In language study, a few months of immersion can advance your knowledge and understanding in ways that years worth of classroom study can not. Classroom or book learning of the rules and theory of grammar provides an understanding which is somewhat abstract and theoretical. Such an understanding has both benefits and limitations. It is difficult, with this type of study, to fully appreciate how the language integrates with the culture, how it integrates with the vast complexity of the human experience of the people who speak the language. To attain fluent proficiency in a language, immersion is necessary.

My understanding of permaculture and horticulture is all abstract. Likewise, my ideals are also abstract and theoretical. I'm not sure that my understanding of economic, political, and social systems isn't quite limited and abstract as well. Lastly, my understanding of (evil and) good old human nature and character is pretty limited and abstract as well. The only experiences I have are from the contemporary cultures in which I have lived. It's quite a stretch to extrapolate from this limited and specific experience in order to try to understand past, future, and alternative cultural, social, and economic systems.

What you can expect to find in Pillars Of The Earth is a richly illustrated model of the culture of the middle ages, including the social, political, agricultural, and economic systems of the era's culture. Everyone will see and learn something different from this model. Different people will see different parables in this story. The contrasts with our contemporary culture will surprise you... The similarities will surprise you even more...

This book provides a kind of immersion experience, collecting an array of rich examples into a cohesive and integrative model of the era's culture. The author's overlay of the fictitious story line onto the anthropological data from the era activates your imagination, causing your imagination to immerse itself in the model. It is this immersive aspect of the book which brings more life to the model, allowing you more insight and depth of understanding than would otherwise be possible in the typical cold journalistic type of encyclopedia/documentary style of history we are accustomed to reading.

Interning at Windward is an immersion experience. What better way to prepare one's self for one immersion experience than with another immersion experience? The immersion experience of reading Pillars Of The Earth can help give you a head start. In this way, you can arrive at Windward already prepared with at least one different cultural model in mind, thus providing you in advance with more background and more experience to help you to better understand, interact with, contribute to, and otherwise immerse yourself in the still evolving model that is Windward.