The Overstory

New York Times Bestseller
Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize

A monumental novel about reimagining our place in the living world by one of our most “prodigiously talented”(New York Times Book Review) novelists.

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 into 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?

“Listen. There’s something you need to hear.”

Praise for The Overstory by Richard Powers
“Autumn makes me think of leaves, which makes me think of trees, which makes me think of The Overstory, the best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period.” —Ann Patchett
“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, New York Times Book Review (cover review)
“Remarkable…This ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
“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, Boston Globe
“A rousing, full-throated hymn to Nature’s grandeur.” —Dan Cryer, San Francisco Chronicle
“An extraordinary novel…An astonishing performance…There is something exhilarating, too, in reading a novel whose context is wider than human life. The Overstory leaves you with a slightly adjusted frame of reference…What was happening to his characters passed into my conscience, like alcohol into the bloodstream, and left a feeling behind of grief or guilt, even after I put it down.” —Benjamin Markovits, The Guardian
“[Powers is] brilliant on the strange idea of ‘plant personhood…’ opening our eyes to the wondrous things just above our line of sight. Memorable chapters unfold [with] many unforgettable images in a novel devoted to ‘reviving that dead metaphor at the heart of the word bewilderment.’” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Richard Powers’ 12th novel is a rare specimen: a Great American Eco-Novel.” Financial Times
“This book is beyond special. Richard Powers manages to turn trees into vivid and engaging characters, something that indigenous people have done for eons but that modern literature has rarely if ever even attempted. It’s not just a completely absorbing, even overwhelming book; 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 Overstory is a visionary, accessible legend for the planet that owns us, its exaltation and its peril, a remarkable achievement by a great writer.” —Thomas McGuane
The Overstory is a visionary, accessible legend for the planet that owns us, its exaltation and its peril, a remarkable achievement by a great writer.” —Tim Martin, Telegraph (UK)
“A colleague of mine once claimed that a critic’s opinions are worth less than his or her ability to convey what a book is like. If that’s true, never mind that I believe Richard Powers’ 12th novel to be a masterwork sculpted from sheer awe. Instead, know that reading The Overstory will convince you that we walk among gods every time we enter a forest.” —Adam Morgan, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The time is ripe for a big novel that tells us as much about trees as Moby-Dick does about whales…The Overstory is that novel and it is very nearly a masterpiece…On almost every page of The Overstory you will find sentences that combine precision and vision.” The Times (London)
“An immense and intense homage to the arboreal world (its biological sophistication, its rich panoply of environmental benefits), the book is alive with riveting data, cogent reasoning and urgent argument. Pages that take you into menaced remnants of primeval forest or contemplate singularly splendid or fascinating trees teem with knowledge and gleam with aesthetic appeal.” The Sunday Times (UK)
“Richard Powers’s novel will complicate the way you think about the environment, activism, our gossamer connection with each other and nature…[I] cannot recommend The Overstory enough.” —Bradford Morrow
“A masterpiece of operatic proportions…A magnificent achievement.” Kirkus (starred review)
“A magnificent saga…Powers’s sylvan tour de force is alive with gorgeous descriptions; continually surprising, often heartbreaking characters; complex suspense; unflinching scrutiny of pain; celebration of creativity and connection; and informed and expressive awe over the planet’s life force and its countless and miraculous manifestations…profound and symphonic.” Booklist (starred review)
“A deep meditation on the irreparable psychic damage that manifests in our unmitigated separation from nature.” Library Journal (starred review)
“Vast, magnificent, and disturbing…An array of human temperaments and predicaments as manifold as Charles Dickens’ or Leo Tolstoy’s…I have never read anything so pessimistic and yet so hopeful.” BookPage

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