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The Overstory

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  10,789 ratings  ·  2,154 reviews
The Overstory is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwe ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published April 2nd 2019 by W.W. Norton Company (first published April 3rd 2018)
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Roberto Andrés Lantadilla I think that the main thread that ties together the novel is the theme of "communication". Take the incipit for an example: we are addressed by a rain…moreI think that the main thread that ties together the novel is the theme of "communication". Take the incipit for an example: we are addressed by a rain of messages from trees, entities that we consider silent and meaningless if not for human purposes. In this respect, I think what "the learners" do is to decrypt Nature's meaning and translate it into human words.

"the next new species will learn to translate between human language and the language of green things."(less)
Deena Metzger This book is written for you. It honors all those, like your family, who, despite terrible pressures and violence stood up for, stand up for the trees…moreThis book is written for you. It honors all those, like your family, who, despite terrible pressures and violence stood up for, stand up for the trees - which is standing up for life itself. Thank you for the profound way your family has chosen to live. You give us life by doing so. (less)
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4.20  · 
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 ·  10,789 ratings  ·  2,154 reviews


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Hannah Greendale
Powers’ structural approach to The Overstory breaks with traditional plotting. The result is two books in one, each designed to appeal to a different type of reader. The flaw in this approach is that the book either reads like a literary triumph that starts slow then builds to something satiating, or it reads like a bait-and-switch with a breathtaking start followed by a wearisome and long-winded trek to the conclusion.

Part 1 (called “Roots”) reads like a magnificent short story collection. The
...more
Neil
Further Update. I can't help it: Powers' writing does something to me. I've now finished a re-read of this book and I am going back to 5 stars. It's a book that really rewards a second reading. It is much darker than I remember from first read (suicide, disillusionment, betrayal on top of the destruction of the natural world) and also much more emotional. The latter of those two surprised me because I thought that knowing the story would reduce the emotional impact, but the reverse happened.

I lo
...more
Paromjit
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This has won the Pulitzer Prize!!

Richard Powers writes with ambition, passion and reverence on the world of trees, their ancient
intelligence and their central place in the fragile ecosystem. This is a dense and epic work of environmental fiction, a picture of the state of our planet and how humanity has contributed to its degradation. Whilst the over riding central character of this are trees, he interweaves the stories of the lives of 9 disparate individuals, within a four part structure of Ro
...more
Paula Kalin
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Environmental enthusiasts
Recommended to Paula by: Booker
Shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2018, The Overstory is a brilliant and passionate book about humans and their relationship to trees and the natural environment.

The first half of the book is exceptional. Written like short stories, 9 characters are introduced separately with their tree story. Each story has an event that has happened to change the life of the character by the tree or trees that shaped them. The stories are phenomenal.

The second half of the book is about these same characters be
...more
Ron Charles
Richard Powers’s “The Overstory” soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.

Long celebrated for his compelling, cerebral books, Powers demonstrates a remarkable ability to tell dramatic, emotionally involving stories while delving into subjects many readers would otherwise find arcane. He’s written about genetics, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence, music and photography. In 2006, his novel about neurology, “The Echo Maker,” won a
...more
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction! This dense, literary book will make you think.

… when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.
description

Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

The Overstory is a powerful, literary novel, shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. It sings, in part, a paean to the wonders of trees and the multitude of wonders that old-growth forests and a variety of trees brings to our world. It also mourns a tragedy
...more
Beata
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having bought this book months ago, I started wondering if I spent my money well. Although I enjoy making my own mind regarding my reading choices, I couldn’t escape coming across many reviews, both positive and negative, as a result, I was a little apprehensive … When I began reading, I thought it’d take me many weeks to get through this novel, however, it turned out to be a compulsive reading for me. Different characters, different stories, one theme: trees. I love forests, parks and try hard ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This amazing book connects specific trees to people or families and then the stories come together and morph into being about the environment, how trees relate to each other, and this underlying theme of personal and natural histories that always play out. Decisions have long-reaching consequences, etc. The first section had me in tears about Chestnut trees. All I wanted to do when I reached the end was go back to the beginning.

I started this as a review copy but bought my own hardcover before
...more
Hugh
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019

This is the most ambitious and complex book on the Booker longlist, and two thirds of the way through it, I was pretty sure it was heading for five stars and being one of the best books I have read this year. Sadly, I found the last part rather disappointing, and I know from previous experience that Powers is capable of better. Perhaps a convincing resolution is too much to ask when the subject matter is so div
...more
Spencer Orey
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Brilliant, slow, and meditative. It made me evaluate my ideas about sustainability, wood, and trees and how I can be a better person in the world. None of the characters really stuck with me, but the presentation of different species of trees (and individual trees situated in places and times) in their grand majesty over time was extraordinary.

My hardback copy was printed on recycled paper, which was a good detail!
Trudie
Another hour. Deserts of infinite boredom punctuated by peaks of freakish intensity

Powers doing my review writing for me.

My reading experience of The Overstory often felt like a forced march of The Appalachian Trail while being read poetry. In all likelihood that might appeal to some people, however I prefer a less arduous journey. I tried to escape this book once, flinging it aside at around page 60 but several positive reviews from trusty readers and the growing likelihood that this will ma
...more
Meike
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, usa, 2018-mbp
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019
Richard Powers goes eco-fiction: In "The Overstory", the real protagonists are trees - living, breathing, communicating, ever-evolving, hard-working, intelligent trees. Okay, there are also people, but the quest they are on is to understand what the trees already know. Powers knits a whole web of protagonists, and the rootage of the book is a compilation of short stories, introducing the human characters: Nicholas Hoel (who grew up on a farm), Mimi M
...more
Gumble's Yard
As per the end of my review, the book has now deservedly won a medal but for lots of reasons (not least that the Booker really does not need another American based male author winning it) I hope it does not win the gold.

This book begins by giving the stories of a disparate group of individuals with different professions and backgrounds, and their interactions with the world of trees.

And so I would like to start my review by commending the reviews of a number of my Goodreads friends - a photogr
...more
Michael
A wonderful tour of how human lives can intersect and become engaged with that of trees. The complex narrative of nine separate characters who grow alone, have different kind of formative influences from events involving trees, and then converge in mind or action by the middle of the book on the political fight in the 80s over the logging of the last old-growth forest plots in the Pacific Northwest. In the process we get to experience a satisfying interplay and integration between tree-hugger sp ...more
Dianne
2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction!

A very erudite and weighty saga that took me over a week to read. It’s excellent, but at the same time, I really wanted it to be over so I could move on to another book. This is a novel where full attention must be paid.

Still, the truth is I learned a ton about the world of trees and will never look at them quite the same way again. The research and passion Powers poured into this novel is staggering. My husband and I just purchased a wooded lot to build a
...more
Melki
description

"Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The clothes closets. The paneling. I forget . . . Thank you," she says, following the ancient formula. "For all the gifts that you have given." And still not knowing how to stop, she adds, "We're sorry. We didn't know how hard it is for you to grow back."

Powers begins his monumental novel by introducing his characters - each with their own short story. Then, the characters begin to interact in a tale that is beautiful, heartbreaking, terrifying,
...more
Rachel
The Overstory is undeniably brilliant, but it's also hard work, and I'm not convinced the payoff was worth the effort. I wanted to be able to say that I was so struck by Powers' genius that I was able to forgive the periods of abject tedium that characterized my reading experience, but that would be a lie. This is undoubtedly a fantastic book, but I don't think I was the right reader for it.

Here I have to echo a sentiment that I expressed in my review of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: there are only s
...more
Helene Jeppesen
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was many things at the same time. It was bewildering, yet intriguing. Right from the beginning, I was intrigued with the subject matter of trees and the characters we are introduced to - the events they go through are fascinating! But I was also bewildered at the writing style and how dense it felt while somehow also being readable and compelling.
This is a 500-page literary fiction book, and at times it felt like work to read it; but most of the time it didn't. I had conflicted feelin
...more
Peter Boyle
Jul 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I reckon everyone has a tree story. Here's mine. When I was a boy, our family planted a wood of sitka spruce and lodgepole pine on a stretch of wasteland that surrounded our farm. The government provided a grant to pay for this, and the annual subsidies that the forest generated helped put my brother and me through college. The saplings were knee-high when we sowed them and now they stretch a couple of storeys high. I live in the city these days, but when I drive back every month and see those s ...more
Paul Fulcher
Now shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker.

The Overstory is the first Richard Powers novel I have read but he, and indeed this book, comes highly recommended (not least by my good Goodreads friend Neil) and this was certainly a striking if flawed read.

The first part of the novel consists of 8 separate short stories (ranging from 9 to 33 pages) with the background and life of some, at that time, unconnected characters.

In each of the stories trees play a part, albeit with very varying levels of sign
...more
Cheri
4.5 Stars

4.5 Stars

“We lived on a street where the tall elm shade
Was as green as the grass and as cool as a blade
That you held in your teeth as we lay on our backs
Staring up at the blue and the blue stared back

“I used to believe we were just like those trees
We'd grown just as tall and as proud as we pleased
With our feet on the ground and our arms in the breeze
Under a sheltering sky”

-- Only a Dream, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Songwriters: Mary Chapin Carpenter


”First there was nothing. Then there was
...more
Lark Benobi
When I began reading this magnificent book I declared "this is going to be one of my favorite books of 2018." Then something happened. I wanted to know more about chestnut trees and the Hoel legacy, damnit. I was entranced by the chestnut-manna scene that begins the novel, and the lone tree that survives on the Hoel farm, and every perfect thing that happened between the words "Now is the time of chestnuts" and "the bluest of Midwestern skies."

Then, ok, what followed was "interesting." Now and t
...more
Betsy Robinson
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Immediately after inhaling the first two pages of this book, I screamed, "Thank you!" To whom, I'm not sure. Then throughout the book, I re-erupted with it, sometimes to Richard Powers, sometimes to whatever force allowed me to understand what came through Powers, through the page, through the people he was writing through, and through the ancient tree memory that pervaded this orgasmic and sweeping novel about all of Nature’s life.

This book, the writing, the subject of trees and Life with a cap
...more
Matthew Quann
Whoa! Congrats to Richard Powers for his 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction win!

In the opening chapter of Richard Powers' The Overstory, the author spans the four or five generations of men who photographed a single Chestnut, over a century, in a mere twenty pages.

Despite that these men could have risen and fallen over the course of a couple pages, each of their stories felt like they could have stretched off into their own novel. This is my first novel by Powers and I couldn't help but admire the
...more
David Yoon
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I shouldn't like this book. it's an extensive brain dump of information about forest intelligence, how trees in fact communicate with each other to warn of impending threats. How a vast underground network connect trees across thousands of kilometres creating a plant neurobiology. We have eco-warriors Watchman and Maidenhair, she a survivor of a near death electrocution that has left her with the ability to communicate with light beings that exhort her to save the trees! And to be honest it gets ...more
Canadian
The Overstory is a big, ambitious, urgent, impassioned, and fact-filled novel. By turns, fascinating, stimulating, frustrating, and fatiguing, the novel’s central premise is that humans aren’t the stars of the show they think they are. They are only one part (and a blind, brutal, rapaciously destructive one at that) of a far larger, intelligent, mysteriously interconnected world.

In “Roots”, the first portion of a book whose sections are named for the parts of a tree, Powers introduces us to mo
...more
Blair
The Overstory is the second Richard Powers book I have read – after Plowing the Dark – and although I liked this a lot more, I find it equally difficult to talk about. Perhaps it's simply the scope of it: the cast of characters alone is vast, and if I start trying to write a summary of each of them I'll be here all day. The plot is even harder to pin down. It is, of course, basically about trees. Trees as the extraordinary, underappreciated, misunderstood organism and life-force they are. Tree ...more
Logan Farmer
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't stop thinking about this book. A sprawling literary eco-epic, The Overstory is the kind of novel that changes people. It's a riveting call to arms and a bitter indictment of our wasteful culture. More than this, it's an incredibly human story with a huge cast of rich characters that you'll never forget. Dense but accessible, Powers is a master of intersecting science, art, and spirituality without sacrificing plot. I pity the next customer who comes in looking for "a book about trees". P ...more
David Joy
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Trying to explain Richard Powers' Overstory a few weeks back I told someone that it was as if Wendell Berry had written a work of magical realism. I don't know if that's exactly right or not now, but I know that this novel is something different than anything else I've ever read. When I finished it the first time, I took a few weeks to try and digest it. I thought of it often. And then one morning over coffee I just started reading it again. It struck me how biblical this novel begins. From the, ...more
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Highly recommended to those who value the character=centric, plotdriven novel about important contemporary issues. Powers has all his stuff lined up and under control. There is of course a degree of ambiguity missing from the power struggle ; there are good guys and bad guys, which may possibly be the case, but.... The pleasure of recognition is here too from the dying off of the Chestnuts (beautiful wood) to the lightly disguised Judi Bari (which is a case of the missing ambiguity of course ; s ...more
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The Mookse and th...: 2018 Booker Shortlist: The Overstory 109 175 Dec 19, 2018 07:52PM  
Play Book Tag: Overstory - Powers - 5 stars 13 35 Oct 17, 2018 01:37PM  
  • Everything Under
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  • The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers
  • The Many
  • American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation
  • In Our Mad and Furious City
  • Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
  • Milkman
  • Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild
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Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Overstory. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award, and he has been a Pulitzer Prize and four-time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Librarian note: There is more than one author with this name in the Goodreads database.
“You can’t come back to something that is gone.” 33 likes
“The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” 25 likes
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