Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Overstory” as Want to Read:
The Overstory
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Overstory

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  92,121 ratings  ·  12,798 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 Nor ...more
Paperback, 502 pages
Published April 2nd 2019 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published April 3rd 2018)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Overstory, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Susan Beaumont I have a different take on Neelay's story. There is a strong theme in the book about stories and how stories motivate people to act. Someone (maybe Pa…moreI have a different take on Neelay's story. There is a strong theme in the book about stories and how stories motivate people to act. Someone (maybe Patricia?) says a couple of times - you cant tell people facts and hope to change their minds; we have to experience something that is either our story or feel empathy for someone else's in order to truly understand something. So if we translate that process into the future of human activity (virtual worlds, games, AI) what the Learners are doing is creating pathways for people to find the stories about the power of nature and what humans are doing to the world and by experiencing that in a virtual process, hopefully they will develop the motivation to protect it. (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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  92,121 ratings  ·  12,798 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Overstory
To hope, which finds roots in the most infertile of soils! Cheers, my friends on our shared planet!

I sit in silence, holding the paperback copy of The Overstory in my hands, thinking of trees.

Wondering which trees grew to become the books on my shelves. Wondering which ones became the cherry tree desk my grandfather made for me. Wondering how old the oak trees were that turned into the logs that made it into my wooden house, to turn into beloved bookshelves. I wonder at the kind of trees that
Hannah Greendale
Richard 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 collect
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This book has an interesting structure and it is well-written. I get what Powers is going for conceptually. The character sketches, which read like short stories are wonderful. But then the book gets... less engaging, shall we say. I stopped reading it because I just could not read one more passage of florid description about trees or visions or highways. I couldn't do it. But if you love trees, this is a good book for you. I get why it won the Pulitzer. ...more
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
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
Always Pouting
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm actually not quite sure how I felt about this one but also spoilers are going to follow before anyone gets angry at me.

The book starts out by telling what are seemingly separate stories about a variety of characters, so at first I thought it was just going to be a collection of short stories. That felt sort of confusing though because we met about 9 or 10 characters in like the first 100-150 pages and the book itself is 500 pages; I just thought to myself is this a collection of 50 short st
Justin Tate
Jan 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Sequoia National Park

The Overstory is part short stories, part tree porn, part rant, and part ramble. It adds up to an impressive literary achievement that will linger with me for a long time, even while the reading experience is generally tedious. At times the characters are intriguing, at least once does plot play a role, and there’s even a fleeting moment of tension. In other words, if you only enjoy edge-of-your-seat thrillers--this isn’t your book. If you’re obsessed with trees, it might be.

I’m by all means a
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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 traged
Diane Barnes
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is quite possibly the most amazing thing I've ever read. It's brilliant, passionate, terrifying and painful. It's too long, it's difficult to read, there are too many characters to follow....and yet, those characters are all of us, at some point in our lives. Let's just say this is The War and Peace of nature.
The novel begins with the story of a chestnut tree in Iowa. It escaped the east coast chestnut blight by virtue of having been brought west in the pocket of a Swedish emigrant. If you
Michael Finocchiaro
Richard Power's The Overstory is a masterpiece that won the 2019 Pulitzer for Fiction. It is monumental piece of environmental fiction whose ubersubject (the "overstory" if you will) is trees and how humans have misunderstood them, fought over them, destroyed them, and even died for them.

The book's initial section, "Roots", contains introductions the nine protagonists of the primary narrative which constitutes the largest section called "Trunk." Each character is fully fleshed out and while the
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
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
Spencer Orey
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: birds, 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!
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 everyt
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
Shelley Ettinger
Well. A long rant has been percolating in my head while I read this overpraised novel by a writer I try over and over and whose work over and over fails to wow me, which is putting it kindly. Lately I've read a number of the 'what to do about great men/geniuses who are also sexual assaulters' think pieces that have been proliferating and what throws me each time is that the artists cited are in reality not a single one of them great, let alone a genius. See for instance Roman Polanski, Woody All ...more
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
“A colossal, rising, reaching, stretching space elevator of a billion independent parts, shuttling the air into the sky and storing the sky deep underground, sorting possibility from out of nothing: the most perfect piece of self-writing code that his eyes could hope to see.”

A tree, viewed by a computer coder lying flat on his back on the ground, having fallen out of one. Self-writing code, perhaps self-sustaining, or like a perpetual motion machine? He’s a gamer, an inventor, one of many un
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: set-in-the-us, 2019
Climate change is probably the most pressing issue of our times and yet very few novels deal with it. Thankfully, here's a book that does.
The Overstory begins brilliantly. One by one we are introduced to ten characters with no relationship to each other. They are all compelling, terrifically drawn characters and they each have a childhood tree story. Powers is really good at writing about childhood and family life. At this point it's looking like a no-brainer five stars.
In part two we see the c
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read, 2018-mbp, usa
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
Matthew Quann
Whoa! Congrats to Richard Powers for his 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction win. It's a very cool selection!

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
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
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
Conor Ahern
When I was in fifth grade, I won a county poetry contest for a poem I wrote, prosaically titled "Trees." The poem had a taut, A-A-B-B rhyming pattern, mined precocious adjectives from a thesaurus, and concluded with the cringeworthy line, "People and trees: incredible connection."

If you want to save the time it takes to read 500 pages and skip the saccharine plot, I am happy to dig up the entirety of the poem for you, because they have the same goal and accomplish the same end.

This book, which
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Environmental Boo...: The Overstory Discussion 2 23 Mar 13, 2021 10:37AM  
Tackling the Puli...: The Overstory (2019 Pulitzer Winner) 12 23 Jan 31, 2021 01:20PM  
Play Book Tag: The Overstory by Richard Powers-4 Stars 4 25 Jan 04, 2021 04:58PM  
King's College Al...: NY Times Article 1 18 Dec 09, 2020 10:01AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • In Our Bones
  • Black Sunday
  • Night Train to Lisbon
  • Near Dark (Scot Harvath #19)
  • Noble Beginnings (Jack Noble #1)
  • Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing
  • Red War (Mitch Rapp, #17)
  • There There
  • Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
  • The Nickel Boys
  • A Gentleman in Moscow
  • The Dutch House
  • The Vanishing Half
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
  • Hamnet
  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
  • Deacon King Kong
See similar books…
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.

Articles featuring this book

  Summer Reading is sponsored by Lifetime’s Book to Screen Movies. Authors tend to be very well-read people. To help you find some...
200 likes · 64 comments
“The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” 184 likes
“What you make from a tree should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.” 141 likes
More quotes…