The Overstory

By Richard Powers,

Book cover of The Overstory

Book description

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work 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, Richard Powers's twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of…


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Why read it?

14 authors picked The Overstory as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

A Pulitzer Prize winner and global bestseller—The Overstory is one of the most successful and widely read works of environmental fiction. It’s a complex novel, weaving together nine separate stories of Americans whose close connections with trees spur them to protect the forests. The story is divided into four sections—root, trunk, crown, and seeds, reflecting the life cycle of trees. If it strikes you that combining nine separate narratives through four cycles is complicated, then you’re right—this is no easy read. Many of the characters endure terrible hardships too—from family tragedy to paralysis and untimely deaths, but there is…

From Ben's list on environmental issues.

Powell’s insight and imagination as a novelist illuminate why some people spend a lifetime studying trees, others put their own life on the line to save old-growth trees and forests, and still others regard trees as commodities to be cut and sold. The writing is so evocative that there were times when I had to put the book down because I was furious with the actions of a fictional character or upset at imagining the destruction wrought by clearcutting.

From Ellen's list on trees, living and dead.

For most of us writers, it’s hard enough to make people come to life on the page. In this Pulitzer Prize-winner, Powers manages to turn trees into memorable characters. A literary tour-de-force, The Overstory exemplifies why nonfiction authors like me, charged with conveying critical information to readers, study the story-telling alchemy of novelists. Recalling Picasso’s observation that art is a lie that gives us the truth, this deeply researched work of fiction reminds us that failing to respect our biological companions on this Earth, as our early ancestors did, risks not only losing them, but ourselves. Even though I’ve written…

A brilliantly written, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about humans, their relationship to trees, and the natural environment. Focusing on several characters whose lives were, sometimes tragically, sometimes heartwarmingly changed by trees they eventually unite to fight against ruthless logging companies. It is definitely not an easy read, but oh so worth it.    

From Artur's list on the amazing world of trees.

This Pulitzer Prize winner was one of the principal inspirations behind my own book. The story’s magic stems from decentering its human protagonists; though the book follows its characters through several decades, the heart of the story’s world—and theirs—is arboreal. The biology, language, and necessity of trees expand through the center of this novel like the rings of a redwood, changing the way we see. After finishing it, I took my dog for a walk and was stopped in my tracks by the beautiful Heritage River Birch trees lining the street near my home. They’d been there all along,…

This book makes a powerful case for the sentience of trees and that trees experience injury and use their underground networks to send messages to each other. This magnificent novel describes the plight of trees, not as a lumberjack’s problem, but as an earth-shattering tragedy that impacts the lives of its nine major characters in dramatic ways. The title is also an allusion to the upper canopy as a place for humans to live before lowering down to the midstory, and finally, the shrubby understory of a tree. I welcomed the book as a bellwether for a growing interest on…

From Leopoldine's list on trees in literature and art.

I fell in love with The Overstory, and perhaps love is the essential fuel in Power’s heart-driven fiction. His entrancing literary journey brings readers into a story of wonder and connectivity with more-than-human life. While the plot moves at an entertaining pace and the characters develop with interest, he gets under the skin as only the best writers can: In subtle and surprising ways, he shifts our perspectives about Earth and our place in it. Power’s narrative took me into the human-inflicted wounds to the natural world where eco-anxiety arises, but also rekindled a bone-deep sense of home that…

From Leslie's list on eco-anxiety.

I am not the first to say this, but the glory of this book lies in forever transforming your view of forests. Previously I might have walked through a small glade of trees and felt like I was passing by intricate and beautiful statues. Now I feel like I am interrupting a conversation. The revelation of forests as bustling communities, as cities of interaction and cooperation, has never been conveyed more persuasively. More than that, the book is littered with clever ideas that could each stand on their own as the basis for a Vonnegut novel: a flip-book documenting a…

From Seth's list on fiction about our place in nature.

For me, the best books are those that not only hold you captive while you’re turning the pages, but that alter your perception of the world long after you’ve finished reading. The Overstory had that effect on me. I have never looked at a tree the same way after finishing this novel. The characters themselves have their understanding of the world overturned and even shattered by encounters with trees, revealing the loss and devastation humans have perpetrated on nature, and sending them on transformative paths as they struggle to help protect what is left. A book that made me despair…

From Thomas' list on human impact on the natural world.

In order to transform grief into action, you first need to allow yourself to grieve. Richard Powers’s magnificent novel, The Overstory, was the book I needed to grieve for deforestation. I have always been a tree-hugger, but this book made me appreciate trees on an even deeper level, infused as it is with meticulously researched botany, forestry history, and dire climate warnings. Each of the novel’s eight protagonists have profound relationships with individual trees, and the struggle to save an old-growth forest is what ultimately brings their stories together. It’s a 500-page book about trees, a slow burn will…

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