Book Review: Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals by Ken Follett
Lately, I’ve been on a kick where I’ve been reading books based in Paris. While the city has changed over the centuries, one piece that has stayed the same for several hundred years is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, sitting in the center of the city in the middle of the Seine River. The fire that blazed through it in 2019 has meant a temporary end to tourism, but experts, history lovers, and all manner of other folks know it will remain a symbol of Paris and (eventually) be restored to its former glory.
One such expert and history lover is Ken Follet, the author most renowned for The Pillars of the Earth. Pillars is famous – or infamous, depending on your perspective – as a sprawling epic that covers more than 100 years of medieval history as a town builds their own cathedral in great detail over about 1,000 pages (depending on the edition)... and so, after the fire in Notre-Dame, Follett unintentionally became a spokesperson and historian for the cathedral because of all the intensive research that had gone into his earlier books and made him a well-known name in historic literature.
Notre-Dame, this book, is really only essay-length at less than 100 pages long. It’s meant to be a bite-sized piece of history to explain to the layperson what it is about Notre-Dame that has made it a symbol of faith and synonymous with France’s identity across the world. By my account, Follett succeeds in that mission; he explains how the cathedral we see today was commissioned, who constructed it, who helped significantly preserve and restore it hundreds of years later, and how its legacy and symbolic meaning carried on into the 20th century. I won’t spoil this book’s contents beyond that – part of the joy is finding out the details for yourself – but it was a lovely summary of Notre-Dame’s importance as a site of history and faith.
Notre-Dame is in Charles City Public Library’s physical and virtual collections for all patrons. Check it out online via Libby as an ebook or audiobook, or get the physical copy today by stopping in or calling 641-257-6319!