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The Echo Maker

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  5,460 ratings  ·  949 reviews
On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, 27-year-old Mark Schluter flips his truck in a near-fatal accident. His older sister Karin, his only near kin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when he emerges from a protracted coma, Mark believes that this woman–who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister–is really...more
Hardcover, 451 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2006)
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The Help by Kathryn StockettWater for Elephants by Sara GruenThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Best for Book Clubs
426th out of 3,400 books — 8,846 voters
The Road by Cormac McCarthyEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanSuite Française by Irène NémirovskyBlack Swan Green by David Mitchell
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2006
23rd out of 200 books — 25 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jimmy
"The issue of subjectivity is a hotly debated topic in the fields of philosophy and the cognitive sciences. But is subjectivity necessary at all? Why is it not just enough to see and react, as a robot might do? What advantage is conferred on the organism by actually experiencing something over just doing it? It is important to consider that animals may not have subjectivity but only react as if they do. Some in this field point out that because we cannot determine that animals do have subjective...more
Phyllis
Aug 27, 2007 Phyllis rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: no one really
Mr. Powers, I have no doubt in your ability to write the sappiest story ever. Not only do you manage to force a sister-brother bond over whooping cranes and frost, you also manage to force a shameful-but-safe romance between said sister and said brother's successful counterpart. I hate you. Thanks to you I will never like a crane, I will never sympathize with head trauma victims, and I will never finish your dumb book. You may have fooled Oprah, but I've got your number!
Jessica
Oct 04, 2007 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: bird brains
Flowers for Algernon for the new millennium!!!!!

Okay, not really, no. Well, maybe a little...?

The best parts of this book were those written from the perspective of a character with severe traumatic brain injury. The rest of it was good too, but the characters were never quite convincing enough for me to suspend my disbelief and actually care what happened to them. Of course, I was helplessly distracted the entire time by the Man Behind the Curtain. Does Richard Powers do all his own research? W...more
David
I've always had mixed feelings about Richard Powers. On the one hand, he is at work creating a new kind of American literary voice -- one fluent in the vocabulary of technology that anyone with a computer and a gadget fetish begins to incorporate into his or her discourse. It's a burning, living, thoroughly modern idiom that most writers -- pale and sheltered one sees them -- have ignored, maybe even with some disdain. But on the other hand, Powers has always been a writer uncomfortable with emo...more
Will Byrnes
Here we are again in the world of literature. Powers is a powerful writer. The length of the book (451 pps) does not really tell the length of this work. It is not a fast read. There is much content woven into the pages, a tapestry of imagery and meaning that enhances the action of the story.

Kearny, Nebraska is a way station on the central flyway, a place where thousands of cranes congregate every year on their way north and south, providing an industry for the town. The descriptions of the migr...more
Kate
Feb 24, 2008 Kate rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: gluttons for punishment
This book stunk so badly that I left it on the seat of the train as I was leaving.

A woman behind me said, "Excuse me, I think you left your book."

And I said, "Yeah, I kind of wanted to leave my book, in hopes that someone else would come along and not hate it as much as I did."

This book was long, boring, rambling and had one plot twist that was moderately interesting, but didn't show up until about page 400 (out of 450).

Skip it. Seriously. Spend time reading a neurobiology book, or a book abou...more
Mark
SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: I'm not giving away the ending here, but the following does give away some of the plot developments.

This won the National Book Award last year, and is by an author who has received one of the MacArthur "genius awards." Did it deserve it?

In the end, I can't endorse the choice, even though there is much to commend in this book. The basic story: a Nebraska factory worker flips his truck on a cold winter night, and when he wakes up, he believes that his sister has been swapped...more
Ryan
I will look back on this and see it as a mistake. I should not pass judgment on a book that I haven't finished, and should keep quiet about my displeasure with a novel that seems to be universally loved. I know (because it always happens) that I will look back and realize how dumb I am.

Even so, I am fighting my way through Powers's writing. Is there anyone out there who feels the same? Is there no one who also feels that the writing comes off as amateurish and sentimental, and who is exhausted...more
Robert Wells
I’m going to try a different approach to this. I’m going to toss out words or thoughts that come to me as I recall this novel.

migratory
self
questions of self, such as are we who we think we are, and the key word here is think. Does the conscious self come from within, or is it merely an echo?
stories and narration – do humans live the story, that is, do we need to see or hear something before we incorporate it into our own self. Powers uses the mockingbird to demonstrate this in the novel.
is who w...more
Kremena
I liked this book for its study of the human brain at different zoom levels; from the evolutionary scale of millions of years, our reptilian brain and deep-rooted animal instincts connecting us to the cranes, the intriguing species Powers has chosen to present his case. The narratives intertwining observations about the cranes, the water ways, and the human relationship to them (at once primevally close and irreparably distant) are beautifully woven and provide plenty of thought-provoking materi...more
Kim
I couldn't finish this slow, overly descriptive, not-at-all intriguing, boring novel. It was a book-club pick and only two people finished it, one kicking and screaming.

The book is about a man in his mid-20s who's in a car accident and spends two weeks in a coma. When he wakes up and begins his recovery, he accuses his sister – the two have always been very close – of being an impostor. It's a disorder called Capgras syndrome, and it's very rare.

The neuroscience and psychology in the book are fa...more
Ben
Plot and formula won out over characters in this Powers effort. Although the description sounds quite intriguing, the execution was flat and undeveloped. To me, it seems as if Powers stumbled upon this concept of the Capgras Syndrome and decided to write about it. How interesting that a person could have this focused paranoia, where he believes everything in the world save one person or thing, whom he believes to be an impostor? Now, to write the book, it seems that Powers researched the disorde...more
Anastasia Hobbet
About half-way through this book, I grew so weary of its repetitious and academic tone that I checked out the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, wondering if my reaction to it was just me. I'm vulnerable to that paranoia; but I found I had lots of company. Some people were ranting mad in their disappointment over this book. For some reason--stubbornness--I kept reading and ended up admiring the book. No, I don't think it didn't deserve the National Book Award, but there's mystery, keen and beautiful...more
Tempest
Jan 23, 2008 Tempest rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tempest by: The National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize Awards
The Echo Maker is akin to an Oscar-winning film. Dramatic, touching, well-executed, and conventionally conservative.

The story is backdropped against a small town that hosts a spectacular bird migration once a year. The hero is involved in a near-fatal car crash, from which he emerges from with Capgras syndrome; a disease which prevents him from recognizing his sister or his dog, instead believing them to be impostors impersonating the genuine articles. The novel follows them through his worseni...more
Melissa
Apr 03, 2008 Melissa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lindsay
This is the best Richard Powers I've read so far possibly because it continues to explore ideas that his other novels bring up. The Echo Maker is a great post-9/11 story about finding meaning in contemporary American Life and about what it means to be human when neuroscience increasingly sees the brain as a computer and the "mind" as nonexistent. But that's just what I think the Echo Maker is about because those messages resonate with me right now; you might find its other themes (the give and t...more
Carmen Daza Márquez
En estas cuatrocientas y pico páginas el autor hace una reflexión muy interesante sobre identidad frente a fisiología y química neurológica. Si una lesión cerebral es capaz de cambiar la personalidad de un individuo, ¿hasta qué punto podemos afirmar que somos lo que somos? Y lo genial del enfoque del autor es que su enfoque no es tanto la víctima del transtorno cerebral sino las personas que le rodean, Marc es incapaz de reconocer a su hermana como tal y esto va a ser para ella tan traumático e...more
Kathrina
Sometimes a book needs to be nearly 500 pages in order to tell the story that needs to be told. This one requires it, although I was at times resistant. Powers requires full immersion to get inside the story and understand his theme from the inside out. He asks a lot of the reader, and sometimes I didn't feel up to the task. But he did offer rewards, and some sentences offered their ripened fruit off the highest bough. Worth the trip to fetch the ladder.
Theory of Mind, my pet, given pride of pl...more
Andrea
It's too bad this is the first book by the author that I've read, since I see that he has lots of fans and that most of those fans don't love this book as much as his others. However, I am not inspired to read anything else by Mr. Powers. This was a rambling book that circled around the theme of identity, dove into the theme to the cellular level, and arrived at nothing. Ponderous, depressing, bleak, pointing to the essential random meaninglessness of life. If this is what the National Book Awar...more
switterbug (Betsey)
This is my fourth Richard Powers book in as many weeks. When the Austin paper reviewed The Echo Maker prior to its release, I was intrigued and drawn to this author with an immediate urgency to read him. First I read the beautiful and opera-like The Time of our Singing and followed with the tender Galatea 2.2, two very different stories that demonstrate Powers' narrative alacrity. (Now add to that The Gold Bug Variations, which I plan on reviewing as an equally powerful novel. )Then I read The E...more
Sara
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Litbitch
I cannot believe this won the National Book Award. What kind of crap was it up against? I finished it because, well, that's what I do, and because there was a bit of mystery, but I found the relationships and dialogue utterly unbelievable, the characters less sympathetic with every chapter, and the supposedly deep, intimate struggles simply dull.
The stuff about the brain and brain injury was interesting; I probably should have read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat instead.
Seriously, how d...more
Djrmel
Part medical mystery, part thriller, part (very) contemporary literature, and 100% metaphor for how much 9/11 changed the world means there is a lot going on in this book. A man is in a freak car accident that should have left him dead, instead it leaves him with Capgras Syndrom - he thinks that the people closest to him are imposters and his real loved ones are being kept from him. This includes his only sister, who gives up her attempts to break away from the small town they grew up in to tak...more
Caroline
This book was terrible. The plot was boring and, I think, anticlimactic. I'm not really sure since I skimmed the last half. The author was pretty good, sometimes brilliant, when writing about things happening around the characters. But when writing about the characters' words and actions, he was painfully bad. All the characters were pathetic, especially Karin. All she did was flail her arms and shout. Not worthy of the National Book Award.
Patrick Greene
The Echo Maker is a devastating, lyrical, deceptively complex story about the nature of selfhood and the unseen currents that draw us all inexorably onward.

The first two-thirds or so are quite slow; sometimes this works well (the poetic descriptions of the landscape and its avian journeymen, the beautiful chaos of a mind recovering from trauma) and occasionally it doesn't (some characters become a little tiresome, the mysteries at the core of the narrative go unexplored for long stretches). But...more
Anne Marie
I picked up this book because I found the premise so interesting: a guy wakes up out of a coma and doesn't recognize his sister anymore. It's one of those rare brain injuries Oliver Sacks describes in The man who mistook his wife for a hat.
But I had a lot of problems with this one. It's terribly longwinded; not just because of many descriptive passages about birds and brain damage, but also because the plot just dragged on without much development. Plus I disliked all the characters except for o...more
Brian
Man...thank God THAT'S over.

It started out good enough: seemingly well written, interesting plot / subject matter, sharply drawn characters, etc. But talk about something less than the sum of its parts.

If someone who actually LIKED this book sat me down and pointed out all the various reasons why they liked it, I'd probably end up nodding again and again in agreement: "Yeah, that was pretty cool." "You're right, that's actually a really well-written paragraph." "Sure, I understand why he did tha...more
Nicole
"The self [is] a mob, a drifting, improvised posse....No self without self-delusion." Can't begin to approach this intricate novel of ideas in one read, one summary, but... Plot-wise, 27-year-old Mark Schluter--a sweet, though volatile, underachieving "boy-man" content to live in his hometown of Kearney, Nebraska, and work as a machinist in the local slaughterhouse--suffers a horrible, inexplicable accident one February night on a straight, lonely stretch of road. He flips his truck and hangs tr...more
David
Most of neuroscience had been discovered since Weber began research. The knowledge base was doubling every decade. One might reasonably guess that everything knowable about brain function would be known by the time his current graduate students retired. Cognition was heading toward its prime collective achievement: grasping itself. What self-image would be left to us, in light of the full facts? The mind might not endure its self-discovery. Might never be ready to know. What would the race do, w
...more
Nathan
A scattershot review:

As a nascent cognitive neuroscientist, I'll have to admit that the name dropping of a slew of well-known neurological conditions gave me plenty of recognizable material -- much more than is normally included in a fictitious account. You can see that Powers has done his research, he covers all of the big findings in research in the sense of Self. Tying these cases together to show how essentially formless the Self is led to a couple short passages of insight extending beyond...more
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Why are people so divided about this book? 13 39 Apr 22, 2013 12:00PM  
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Richard Powers is the author of eleven novels. He has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, the Lannan Literary Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the National Book Award.
More about Richard Powers...
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“On the ride back south, she tapped all the anger-management tricks they'd given her in job training. They played across her windshield like PowerPoint slides. Number One: It's not about you. Number Two: Your plan is not the world's. Number Three: The mind can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. (24)” 8 likes
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