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The Overstory (2018)

by Richard Powers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,8521513,623 (4.08)341
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. 31
    Barkskins by Annie Proulx (GerrysBookshelf)
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    Greenwood by Michael Christie (OscarWilde87)
  3. 11
    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. 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.
  5. 01
    The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff (Sandwich76)
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» See also 341 mentions

English (147)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (150)
Showing 1-5 of 147 (next | show all)
This book is all about Interconnectivity, not just between and among individuals, but between people and nature. Powers weaves a rich tale of how the lives of nine unrelated people come together and cross paths in an eerie way somehow connected to and influenced by trees. The understory of The Overstory consists of the machinations of the human characters, but the uniting theme of the entire book (the overstory) is that humans are mindlessly destroying the earth’s forests even though they (the humans) actually need those forests for their own continued survival.

The humans are brought together somewhat by accident—or is it through the subtle manipulations by surrounding trees that the humans unconsciously perceive but cannot quite articulate? In any event, the humans become ultimately unsuccessful protectors of the forest. They employ several tactics to hinder the lumber jacks. Two of them actually live for several months in a primitive shelter erected 200 feet above ground in the branches of one magnificent redwood to prevent its harvesting by an evil, greedy lumber company. Later six of them become literal “tree huggers”—they band together by handcuffing themselves around that same redwood. Their efforts go for naught when the lumber company, aided by the local police, forcefully drive them away.

Frustrated in their attempt to save one tree, they adopt new tactics to battle the march of “progress.” They attempt to set fire or blow up a ritzy ski resort under construction. Although they succeed in doing a great deal of property damage, disaster befalls them when one of their own is killed when the explosives are triggered prematurely. From that point on, they are fugitives, wanted not only for trespass and malicious destruction of property, but also murder.

Since the authorities do not know who they are, they are able to disperse and go into hiding. The law catches up with some of them, but only after two decades during which they have assumed new identities and some have achieved a degree of prominence.

Throughout his telling of the adventures of the humans, Powers intersperses observations on the characteristics of various species of trees, always emphasizing their importance to many other species of plants, animals, and humans. We learn the sad history of the American chestnut tree, a stately species that was once the dominant variety of hardwood in eastern America, but was virtually wiped out by a blight fungus. We learn the amazing properties of the banyan tree, which can live hundreds of years and grow to enormous size. We also learn that trees produce many medicines not otherwise available. But most of all we are reminded of the vital role trees play in removing carbon dioxide from the air and producing oxygen through photosynthesis.

Evaluation: Powers is an excellent writer whose prose sparkles throughout the book. His message about the importance of taking a long view in terms of climate and habitat is unfortunately not one that will appeal to many readers devoted to short term pleasures, short-sited self-interest and low taxes.

(JAB) ( )
2 vote nbmars | May 26, 2021 |
Wow. This book was devastating on so many levels.
  Abiquail | Apr 24, 2021 |
It was about trees
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
A little long, repetitive and tedious at times ( )
  ibkennedy | Feb 23, 2021 |
In the first half of [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] the author uses trees as a connecting motif through the lives of nine disconnected characters. I've enjoyed the "different characters / shared object" framing device since first experiencing it in [b:The Library Card|87218|The Library Card|Jerry Spinelli|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1328865933l/87218._SX50_.jpg|1222529] and the first half of the book uses it extremely well. The second half of the book shifts into a shared narrative and the book's well crafted characters suffer under the weight of having to carry that narrative. Still - well written and worth the read. ( )
  eshaundo | Feb 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 147 (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
Dedication
For Aida.
First words
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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