This is the first book in the Century Trilogy and begins in 1911 - right before World War I breaks out. When we start, the Crowned heads of Europe still exist; however after the war, only the British monarchy has survived. There are five families that the reader follows, from all economic classes - both rich and poor. There is a Welsh coal miner and his suffragist daughter, the local Earl that is their nemesis, two orphaned Russian brothers (one who is a scoundrel and the other a working class hero), star crossed lovers (one English, the other German), and an American diplomat.
What I loved about this novel, and all Follett's novels really, is that he's able to utilize an amazing story to create a civics lesson - we learn about World War I and the Russian Revolution at the same time that we follow the stories of an amazingly interesting group of people. He is meticulous in creating the world and the politics of his characters in the hopes of teaching us a bit about the time period. Follett's grasp of the historical record is masterful - a lot of research went into composing this Big Book (and big it is at around 1000 pages, give or take - but worth every single bit). Loved this novel and highly recommend it.