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The Overstory (2018)

by Richard Powers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,9821882,533 (4.08)406
An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back to life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers - each summoned in different ways by trees - are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel 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, The Overstory 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, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. 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. The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? -- from dust jacket.… (more)
  1. 41
    Barkskins by Annie Proulx (GerrysBookshelf)
  2. 20
    Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: A book by the scientist who inspired the Powers character "Patricia Westerford."
  3. 31
    The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Hill (Gwendydd)
    Gwendydd: One of the main characters of Overstory is loosely based on the life of Julia Butterfly Hill.
  4. 10
    The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben (anjenue)
  5. 10
    The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Cecrow)
  6. 10
    Greenwood by Michael Christie (OscarWilde87)
  7. 11
    The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed by John Vaillant (Gwendydd)
    Gwendydd: These books both talk a lot about the giant trees of the west coast, logging, and anti-logging activists.
  8. 01
    The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff (Sandwich76)
  9. 01
    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: The forest in Powers' book takes on the organizing and animating function of the river in McDonald's. Both of these novels also have a regard for artificial intelligence that de-centers it from the human perspective.
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» See also 406 mentions

English (184)  Dutch (2)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (188)
Showing 1-5 of 184 (next | show all)
Four stars for ambition. Four stars for writing. One star for overall execution/editing/enjoyment. Having been bedazzled by Powers’ “Bewilderment”, I was eager to read his Pulitzer Prize-winning book. I had mild reservations when I saw the work’s girth, but I reminded myself that Powers had penned one of my favorite books over the past couple years. Surprisingly, I was so bored by “The Overstory” that I almost stopped reading it three times. I finally called it quits two-thirds of the way through this agonizingly slow-moving book. Perhaps if Powers had focused on a few key characters and turned in a tome half the length, this ode to trees may have been more effective. With apologies to the Pulitzer judges, “The Overstory” is grossly overrated. ( )
  brianinbuffalo | Sep 25, 2022 |
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, The Overstory is an ambitious environmental fable of nine main characters that explores our relationship with nature, the psychology of why we're so bad at acting on climate change, our perception of time, the meaning of hope, and much, much more. Everyone should read this book and wake up to what we’re doing to our planetary home before it’s too late. ( )
  etxgardener | Aug 16, 2022 |
I should begin by acknowledging that I am, in many respects, an ideal target reader for this book. A Pulitzer prize winner in 2019, it will not be to everyone's taste. But for someone who has had a lifelong fondness for nature writing, whether non-fiction or as it occurs in novels, the book has an easy appeal. Trees in particular have held an attraction for me since I was a child and, like one of the characters in this book, owned a well-thumbed copy of the Golden Book of Trees.

The book is long, and some reviewers have suggested that it would have benefited from judicious editing. I'm usually part of the "needs editing" chorus these days, but in this case I disagree, given this book's structure and goals. It begins with what are essentially 8 gorgeously written short stories introducing 9 key characters, each of whom has, in some way or another, a connection to trees. For the most part the significance of these connections is not evident to the characters themselves - yet.

The middle portion brings several of these individuals together in a tree-hugging resistance movement in the Pacific Northwest. This section has a sort of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" feel in the way the individuals are each drawn to the place and time. I will admit that I learned more than I really wanted to know about the brutal tactics used by the authorities to derail the protesters, but all the details built steadily toward the climax of the section. Meanwhile, the stories of the other characters continued in parallel, and on all fronts we learn more about trees, forests - and technology, oddly enough.

The concluding section is a beautifully imagined and executed resolution of lives of all of the characters, surprising in some instances, but ultimately satisfying. When you consider Powers' intended scope for the book, I'm not sure it could have been done as well had it been extensively "pruned".

And that's because, although Powers' intent is to celebrate the amazing qualities of trees, their contributions to the planet (both known and as-yet unknown) and the ever-increasing threats to their continued existence, particularly in old growth forests, it is not non-fiction. It is fiction of the first order, a remarkable blending of message and literary style.

I felt enriched by [b:The Overstory|40180098|The Overstory|Richard Powers|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1562786502l/40180098._SY75_.jpg|57662223]. My review has spoken of the structure and content, but not of the sumptuous language, the brilliant images, the fully realized and compelling characters. It has captured me (both the message and the writing) and it will be a while before it lets me go.

( )
1 vote BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
A sad, troubling, but wonderful book. ( )
  hhornblower | Aug 6, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 184 (next | show all)
“Literary fiction has largely become co-opted by that belief that meaning is an entirely personal thing,” Powers says. “It’s embraced the idea that life is primarily a struggle of the individual psyche to come to terms with itself. Consequently, it’s become a commodity like a wood chipper, or any other thing that can be rated in terms of utility.” [...]

“I want literature to be something other than it is today,” Powers says. “There was a time when our myths and legends and stories were about something greater than individual well-being. "
added by elenchus | editlithub.com, Kevin Berger (Apr 23, 2018)
 
Acquiring tree consciousness, a precondition for learning how to live here on Earth, means learning what things grow and thrive here, independently of us.

We are phenomenally bad at experiencing, estimating, and conceiving of time. Our brains are shaped to pay attention to rapid movements against stable backgrounds, and we’re almost blind to the slower, broader background drift. The technologies that we have built to defeat time—writing and recording and photographing and filming—can impair our memory (as Socrates feared) and collapse us even more densely into what psychologists call the “specious present,” which seems to get shorter all the time. Plants’ memory and sense of time is utterly alien to us. It’s almost impossible for a person to wrap her head around the idea that there are bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California that have been slowly dying since before humans invented writing.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Powers, Richardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Allié, ManfredÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bierstadt, AlbertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chauvin, SergeTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaffney, EvanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guevara, Teresa Lanero Ladrón deTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kempf-Allié, GabrieleÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lanero, TeresaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Noorman, JelleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quinn, MarysarahDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toren, SuzanneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vighi, LiciaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. The waving of the boughs in the storm, is new to me and old. It takes me by surprise, and yet is unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Earth may be alive: not as the ancients saw her--a sentient Goddess with a purpose and foresight--but alive like a tree. A tree that quietly exists, never moving except to sway in the wind, yet endlessly conversing with the sunlight and soil. Using sunlight and water and nutrient minerals to grow and change. But all done so imperceptibly, that to me an old oak tree on the green is the same as it was when I was a child.
--James Lovelock
Tree . . . he watching you. You look at tree, he listen to you. He got no finger, he can't speak. But that leaf . . . he pumping, growing, growing in the night. While you sleeping you dream something. Tree and grass same thing.
--Bill Neidjie
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For Aida.
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First there was nothing.
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To be human is to confuse a satisfying story with a meaningful one, and to mistake life for something huge with two legs.
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An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back to life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers - each summoned in different ways by trees - are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel 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, The Overstory 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, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. 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. The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity's self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? -- from dust jacket.

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