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The Overstory: A Novel

(10 customer reviews)

$18.95$27.95


by Richard Powers

Synopsis

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Winner of the William Dean Howells Medal
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Over One Year on the New York Times Bestseller List
A New York Times Notable Book and a Washington Post, Time, Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

“The best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period.” —Ann Patchett**

The Overstory, the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, 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 Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

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About this book

637 Pages
13 - 14 Hours to read
173k Total words

Description

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
Winner of the William Dean Howells Medal
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Over One Year on the New York Times Bestseller List
New York Times Notable Book and a Washington PostTimeOprah MagazineNewsweekChicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

“The best novel ever written about trees, and really just one of the best novels, period.” —Ann Patchett**

The Overstory, the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, 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 Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Review

“Should be mandatory reading the world over.”
– Emilia Clarke“The best book I’ve read in 10 years. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, and the moment it speaks to is climate change. So, for me, it’s a lodestone. It’s a mind-opening fiction, and it connects us all in a very positive way to the things that we have to do if we want to regain our planet.”
– Emma Thompson“An ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them.”
– citation from the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction

“This book is beyond special.… It’s a kind of breakthrough in the ways we think about and understand the world around us, at a moment when that is desperately needed.”
– Bill McKibben

“The best novels change the way you see. Richard Powers’s The Overstory does this. Haunting.”
– Geraldine Brooks

“A towering achievement by a major writer.”
– Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

“This ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.… Remarkable.”
– Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Powers is the rare American novelist writing in the grand realist tradition, daring to cast himself, in the critic Peter Brooks’s term, as a ‘historian of contemporary society.’ He has the courage and intellectual stamina to explore our most complex social questions with originality, nuance, and an innate skepticism about dogma. At a time when literary convention favors novelists who write narrowly about personal experience, Powers’s ambit is refreshingly unfashionable, restoring to the form an authority it has shirked.”
– Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic

“Monumental… The Overstory accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. Using the tools of the story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.… A gigantic fable of genuine truths.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review

“A big, ambitious epic.… Powers juggles the personal dramas of his far-flung cast with vigor and clarity. The human elements of the book―the arcs his characters follow over the decades from crusading passion to muddled regret and a sense of failure―are thoroughly compelling. So are the extra-human elements, thanks to the extraordinary imaginative flights of Powers’s prose, which persuades you on the very first page that you’re hearing the voices of trees as they chide our species.”
– Michael Upchurch, The Boston Globe

Additional information

FORMAT

Hardcover, Paperback

10 reviews for The Overstory: A Novel

  1. Leda D. Schubert

    I finished this magnificent, life-changing book 1/2 hour ago, and I hope to read it again soon. Powers takes on the single most important topic of our time: the effects of humans on the planet and the possibility of a future. Through 9 varied characters, he brings to life the old forests, the lives of individual trees, the quest for AI, and the love people are capable of, among other themes. It’s a tour de force of creation and, at 500 pages, it could have gone on forever and I would have been happy. It will also break your heart, but it’s not completely without hope. Highest recommendation.

  2. Aran Joseph Canes

    When looking for a literary analogue, The Overstory is almost something of a Dostoevskian novel. The themes are different of course—-Powers is not interested in discussing God or the basis of morality—but one does get the sense in reading the Overstory that the plot, characters and various literary devices are all at the service of the author’s philosophical vision. And by philosophical I don’t mean esoteric fine points of metaphysics but the larger question of the future of life on earth—in both Powers and Dostoevsky there is almost a return to the themes of ancient apocalyptic writings.While Powers certainly doesn’t need authentication of his narrative power—he has already won a National Book Award among many literary prizes—I can vouchsafe that he is an excellent storyteller. Similarly, his ability to create characters that may stretch the bounds of believability but still generate passionate sympathetic feelings in the reader is also beyond doubt.Thus, I found myself reading the Overstory with every free moment I had over two days and loving nearly every page.The overarching philosophy of the work is that human beings, either willfully or not, do not understand the amount of destruction they are causing to the world’s flora. Plants and trees, one of the oldest of the earth’s kingdoms, are only now beginning to be understood as beings that communicate, learn and in some instances even care for their own offspring. The human caused biocide of the world’s flora is a tragedy not only because these trees may have medicinal or other useful properties for humans but also because each one is a beautiful product of nature fashioned over millions of years. In the author’s view, we seem to be destroying some of the most important parts of creation, so that everyone can, so to speak, have a bigger projection screen TV.Nor are biofuels, renewable energy or other technological fixes likely to stem this downward spiral. Even virtual reality is only going to be as interesting as the humans who create it and so cannot be a genuine substitute for the complexity of what nature provides for us gratis in the real world.The author seems to envision only two scenarios: either humankind will wipe itself out and the earth will generate new, unforeseeable solutions to life or artificial intelligence will impose a solution on a humanity which cannot save itself.To those who have read optimistic works like Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now or related perspectives such environmental pessimism is somewhat startling. I can’t say that I am fully persuaded by Powers’ perspective but I can appreciate the accuracy of his science, the literary craftsmanship that went into embodying these ideas and the importance of his overall message.So, if you are willing to endure a literary punch to the stomach and put on apocalyptic glasses then you will thoroughly enjoy The Overstory. But, though a love of trees thoroughly permeates the book, it is hardly a walk in the park.

  3. Burt J. Kempner

    A wise, deep, moving epic by an exceptional writer. I was totally entranced. There are fabulous stand-alone set pieces, engaging characters, glorious prose and a soul-stirring look into the inner lives of trees. It’s one of a handful of books of which I can say I was a different person when I finished it. Bravo, Mr. Powers. This may very well be your masterpiece.

  4. lapidaryblue

    How have I lived and read this long and not known of Richard Powers? What a writer and what a book.If I were still in my 20s or even 30s I would be buying copies of this book and thrusting them all on my friends and telling them it is a must read. Now that I’m considerably older than that, I’m not so naive. You have to come to it of your own. The trees themselves will call you do it, just as in the book.Of course, it’s a clarion call to our species to stop wreaking havoc on the earth and all its species, including our own. And, of course, it is a cry in the dark. We will destroy ourselves and then the planet can begin to recover. It’s happened many times during the earth’s long history and will happen many times again. Too bad for us. Let’s hope some of those magnificent giants out live us to help heal earth after we have destroyed it.Nevertheless, read this book and try to change the “live only for today and the next dollar” ethos.

  5. Sunny

    This book could have been two-thirds as long and been the better for it. I mistakenly thought the book was all short stories and if that had been the case, it would have been magical. The “short stories” were the best I have ever read. The middle allowed all the characters to develop the “tree theme” and that, too, was well done. By the final third, it was all hippy-dippy, tinfoil hat, stream of conscious waste of the trees it took to write the book. Sometimes, you just have to STOP. Or get a better editor.

  6. Michael Anthony

    The opening short stories are great, but the book soon devolves into a boring repetition of its underlying mantra: People who like trees are good and noble souls; all others are shallow and stupid cretins. To hammer this point home, we come to divorced, exam-failing Olivia who has walked by a lovely tree for years and never taken notice of it grandeur and mysteries; and this self-centered trollop trudges home alone in the cold dark winter night, gets high on hashish, blisses out on trance music, falls onto her bed randy for self-pleasure and electrocutes herself as she turns out the light. Got it NOW?

  7. ChopinBlues

    The first chapter alone is worth the price of entry — if it were a stand-alone short story, it would be the best short story I’ve ever read. I have read a number of this author’s works, and mostly enjoyed them, but there was always something missing. This book has it all.

  8. Crone

    I’m half way through it and I am finding it very hard to put down. This differs from his other novels in its accessibility to the average reader- I hope it will bring him the popularity he so richly deserves. This is an immensely readable novel- he seems to have improved his ability to communicate his rather esoteric ideas to an audience that is not necessarily well versed in science and/or music. His characters are well drawn and compelling- I find myself thinking about them often, and not wanting to end the book, because I will miss all of them. It is a uniquely American novel in many ways, and yet, of course, its themes are universal. Powers writes a lot about the connections between art and science; this more than most of his books, is about humans and our connection to nature. It’s a common subject, and yet he gives it his own special twist. It’s his most accessible novel since In The Time Of Our Singing. I have to say that the phrase “Great American Novel” keeps coming to me- I’m not sure if I am being hyperbolic.

  9. Elena

    Pretentious and preaching. Self consciously covering all the bases of environmentalism and activism and mysticism. There were a few moments of fine writing, but not nearly enough to rescue this book.

  10. John Pastor

    Someone called my attention to this giant blooper on p. 333:”Adam follows the cut, climbing along sentry conifers—spruce to hemlock to Douglas-fir, yew, red cedar, three kinds of true firs, all of which he sees as pine (italicized). “None of these are pines and the sequence in which Adam would have encountered them with elevation is wrong. And Adam is doing his Ph.D. dissertation on, of all things, trees! It would have been good if the author did his botanical homework.I started reading this book but put it down after a few chapters in which the main characters who plant or otherwise nurture a tree of some sort and who are not very likable commit suicide or otherwise die. Very little relation to the trees in those chapters. I’m glad I put it down before I got to the blooper about Adam. I would have taken Dorothy Parker’s famous advice: “This is not a novel to be thrown aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”The paper it is printed on is a waste of a tree.

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