The Overstory by Richard Powers

“But people have no idea what time is. They think it’s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead. They can’t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already died.”

“Life has a way of talking to the future. It’s called memory. It’s called genes.”

“Life will cook; the seas will rise. The planet’s lungs will be ripped out. And the law will let this happen, because harm was never imminent enough. Imminent, at the speed of people, is too late. The law must judge imminent at the speed of trees.”

“We’re cashing in a billion years of planetary savings bonds and blowing it on assorted bling.”

“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 not unknown. Its effect is like that of a higher thought or a better emotion coming over me, when I deemed I was thinking justly or doing right.”

“She could tell them about a simple machine needing no fuel and little maintenance, one that steadily sequesters carbon, enriches the soil, cools the ground, scrubs the air, and scales easily to any size. A tech that copies itself and even drops food for free. A device so beautiful it’s the stuff of poems. If forests were patentable, she’d get an ovation.”

“Humans are so frail. How have they survived long enough to wreak all the shit they have?”


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. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.

This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe.

My Review:

There are some books that come along and just take your breath away, and that’s what this book did to me. The first half of the book reads like a series of short stories, each about a different person who develops a special, almost mystical, affinity with trees. In the second half of the book their stories become entwined as they join in a great environmental war. The author takes his time and makes sure the reader really knows the hearts of these very diverse characters, where they have come from and why they feel the way they do. The prose was almost lyrical while at the same time imparting a vast amount of knowledge to the reader. I wanted to highlight entire passages on almost every page just because they were so beautiful and insightful.

2 thoughts on “The Overstory by Richard Powers

  1. Even your outline of the book is very poetical; I guess you may consider writing a post with excerpts from the book you loved. I’ll look forward to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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