New York Times Bestseller
Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize
A New York Times Notable, Washington Post, Time, Oprah Magazine, Newsweek, Chicago Tribune, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2018
A monumental novel about trees and people by one of our most “prodigiously talented” (The 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.”
An Amazon Best Book of April 2018: Do you love trees? I thought I did, until I read Richard Powers’s The Overstory, and I realized that my appreciation of trees was lightweight at best. When one of Powers’s characters goes to a small grove outside her office window to determine the tree’s species, “She stands with her nose in the bark, perversely intimate. She doses herself for a long time, like a hospice patient self-administering the morphine.” Trees are not exactly an addiction to the wide-ranging cast of characters–an engineer, a Vietnam vet, a college student, a videogame designer, and more—but more like a touchstone that offers tradition and destiny at once. Powers, a National Book Award and Pushcart Prize–winning author, is devious in that he first immerses the reader in the lives of his characters before delicately oxygenating his story with the devastation of Dutch elm disease, the enduring strength of the sequoia, and the communication methods trees use to warn of predators and to lure allies. The Overstory might sound a bit woo-woo—and it definitely is that, though in such a way that it inspires passion instead of eye-rolling. This gorgeously written novel will seduce you into looking more closely at not only our fellow human beings but the towering bio-kingdom that is too often merely a backdrop to our days. Perhaps, like me, you will be inspired to walk out into the night to smell the rain sweeping through the nearby evergreen trees. —Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review
“The Overstory, a novel about trees and people who understand them, is the eco-epic of the year and perhaps the decade. Unlike the Lorax, who spoke for the trees, Richard Powers prefers to let them do their own talking.”
– Leanne Shapton, judge for the Man Booker Prize
“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, The 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