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The Overstory

The Overstory

A Novel

Book - 2018
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Apr 30, 2021


Apr 05, 2021

I'll keep this short and sweet.

This book, overall, was really profound and "good" doesn't really matter in this case. For me, the beginning of the book talking about the North American Chestnut Blight was one of the most tragic things I'd ever read and never knew about.

That said, this book is a time commitment that will not read quickly. Definitely worth the read in my opinion.

JCLChrisK Mar 31, 2021

I've been waiting nearly three years to read this book, ever since I read an excerpt in Nautilus in spring 2018. I've checked it out from the library numerous times, and each time it came due before I could get to it, knowing it would be a big time investment. This time I finally managed (though it's now a bit overdue and others are waiting their turn). I'm glad I did.

As I try to with nearly every book I read, I went in with as little knowledge of its contents as possible, only what intrigued me so much in the first place. I like to be surprised and enjoy the journey of discovery. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't quite this. I knew it would be about trees; I didn't realize just how much it would be about people. The characters are imaginary, but it's a true story, based on events that have taken place the past 50 years. It chronicles how our society's collective awareness of trees and the natural world has changed during that time. Only it's not a singular story. Powers tells it through the lives of a cast of characters. The first big chunk of the book is a collection of short stories introducing each of them. The rest brings them together to a pivotal series of events, followed by a lengthy aftermath. It's a fragmentary story, regularly switching perspectives as it hops from character to character, place to place, piece to piece. It's built, in its way, to resemble the structure of trees, a community of trees, and convey their perspective.

I often wondered just what this story was, what tale it was telling and where it was going. Even as I did, I was compelled by it. In its quiet, seemingly random and aimless (at times) way, it was thrilling. Evocative. I didn't know why I should care about these characters, but I did. I felt their passion. Just as it can be hard to fully grasp the grandeur of trees, in all their diversity and variety across the globe, with over half their mass and activity below the surface, so is this book. It impacted me. And, maybe not for many more years, it's one I hope to read again.

Mar 16, 2021

Interesting story, definitely for the tree huggers.

Mar 05, 2021

Like Greenwood. Trees.

IndyPL_CarriG Jan 05, 2021

A sweeping and intense novel about the lives of trees and several different characters, and how they intertwine. Beautiful and at times heartbreaking, read this novel if you love books with gorgeous prose and epic metaphors.

Dec 31, 2020

I struggle to compose my thoughts about this book (what is it? a drama, a fantasy, a thriller, a documentary, a history lesson, ...)
A third of the way through, having been introduced to all the characters, the roots, I loved it and had very high hopes.
If you didn't already know a ton about trees, the revelations about forests and their interconnectedness and impacts are amazing, and these, along with the significant social and philosophical questions that are explored, have to be considered the trunk.
The quotes, excerpts, writing within the writing, and descriptions of nature are poetic and evocative, the beautiful flowers of the story.
The writing is masterful: sentence structure, vocabulary and the realistic characters and their relationships.
The story branches and we follow several branches out to the tips, but we aren't really sure where anything is going, and it just didn't go where I hoped it might.
I was left unsatisfied and not in the "wanting-more" sense, just disappointed.

Dec 26, 2020

A little emotionally overplayed and felt a bit self-important for my taste. I appreciate the wealth of tree metaphors and the vegetative narrative structure. It seemed at least one storyline could have been removed without negative impact to the overall storyline.

Dec 17, 2020

A complex novel with a structure that may put off readers of more conventional books. But bear with it. It’s more than worth the read. Just realize that it all adds up in the end to a very compelling realization that we don’t know nearly as much about our natural environment as we think!

Nov 14, 2020

A great book. I absolutely loved it. I felt that the author should have ended it about 2/3 of the way through. But despite that, it was an excellent story with good complex characters.

Oct 19, 2020

Very informative and nicely written but The Legacy of Luna by Julia “Butterfly” Hill is a superior first person account on the topic.

Oct 09, 2020

This book is so innovative... which kept me going in the slower parts. I'm so glad I did keep going - the ending was fantastic.

Sep 27, 2020


Aug 30, 2020

I loved the back stories of the soon to be interwoven characters. At first I was worried that I'd picked up a volume of short stories, but soon some met to propel the plot forward, and others provided philosophical and scientific support to the plot. All were heartfelt. All provided nuggets of wisdom and reasons why we have to value our trees in other than dollar value, in a most entertaining way.

Aug 29, 2020

Really wanted to love this book, because I have grown to appreciate every part of nature and each move mankind makes to eliminate, devour, use up our natural resources is painful. So I hoped this would help remove some sadness about deforestation. The first eight stories were terrific, but then.... couldn’t keep the characters straight and they became more and more superficial. I could no longer relate to them. I forced myself to continue, but abandoned it after 350 pages. Very disappointed.

Aug 15, 2020

I could not get into this book. I quit!

Jul 16, 2020

Too hyper, too promotional, too superior, too trite; and too long; USA-centric.

Jun 24, 2020

I am really enjoying this book. The characters are alive as well as the trees.

Reading this during Shelter-in-place and a pandemic has made me slow down and appreciate what I have. This book has allowed me to enjoy the wonders of nature, and look a little deeper.

May 20, 2020

This was my favourite book from 2019, by far. I still look at trees in a different way after reading this.

CALS_Lee Apr 29, 2020

This book got me into trees, which goes to show you the wondrous things that books can do. The Overstory seems to ask the reader to accept that trees have consciousness and can even make moral choices, and while I fully submit to the idea that life and reality are far, far more mysterious and wondrous than humans can yet understand, I have rather strong doubts about this particular claim. But still. Still. This novel shows us something big and true that most of us do not tend to see and that isn’t all that bad a description of great literature, it seems to me.

Powers starts the novel out so brilliantly with a series of character sketches linking his human creations to the natural world in ways seen and unseen, sending me off on Google searches to learn more about chestnuts and banyans and mulberries and elms, and I was fascinated.

I then feared for a stretch of the second half of this doorstop novel that he was descending into heavy handedness and mind closing didacticism. Brutal men in police uniforms operating in the service of corporations and state power may be a real life thing but it can make for an eye rolling scene in literature. And it seemed he was heading for a grand finish of nihilistic doomsday-ism. But no, he branches off away from that future, sends out a bud of new life, that left me rising out of my chair in gratitude for this mighty work.

JessicaGma Mar 25, 2020

Be forewarned - It's dense and interweaves a lot together, but it's a really interesting tale of many characters woven together much like roots in a forest. I've never read anything by Richard Powers and found this book via a BookRiot article talking about Keanu Reeves who's apparently a huge reader - anyway, this was his most recent read, and it was well worth it - you learn the ugly sides of the pulp and paper industry, but also so much about the innate elegance of trees and forests. Nature is indeed a marvel

Feb 26, 2020

I enjoyed the first eight stories and was thrilled to discover an innovative style .
However, when I was half way up the trunk, the book “dropped me “ and I could not finish it.

Feb 23, 2020

This is a really beautifully written book. Powers weaves together multiple stories into one larger piece that takes shape slowly over the 500 pages, a lot like the trees that are at the center of what he writes.

Feb 10, 2020

Monumental, I have zillion (non)reasons to love this book (e.g. I enjoyed “Hidden Life of Trees” many thought boring.)
But to readers who were not radicals, or were repelled by the marginal civil disobedient, or growing indifferent to environmentalists noise, or were drawn to romance, fantasy, suspense, fact based and reason seeking... there would be easily an entry point found at root of one the characters or tip of the branching plots, to grow into and blossom out an all-encompassing tree of life.

I considered author's oblique or elusive (disagreeing with what I held) when living through some parts/roles, but more or less satisfied at the ending. A classic!

P.S. Our legacy proved to turn living world bleak, but the author is more optimistic than I have believed. A few exemplary solutions are presented from representative protagonists:
1. Patricia's science-backed approach, as passionate as logical, I'd easily side with;
2. Radicals (and associates), from Mimi's circle of life to Nick's "STILL" art, from Doug "Fir" learning in confinement to Andrew "Maple" voluntary sentence to "eternity", set no frame of action but a mind opening to see beyond self.
3. Brinkman's, could awake generations of mainstream?
4. Neelay's AI, speculative, where I have the most doubts to influence and guide the younger generation, also the most fascinating!

envy of living in a Tree house;
guilt for reading books made of trees.

Feb 09, 2020

I found the book uneven from chapter to chapter BUT the best chapters (most of them) left me in awe of the author's skill in crafting a story - and developing characters - of overwhelming beauty, pathos, and lyricism.

If you are open to having your mind blown by the selection and placement of words from a dictionary, as much as any book I know of, this will do it.

Perhaps it's helps that I find trees, and the natural world generally, remarkable.

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