The Overstory – A Great Book

Between my love affair for the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite, (really all the trees of Yosemite) I have long had a thing for trees. But Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, I must say, has me looking at them in a whole new light. This 501-page book is wonderful and a really great work of art. I highly recommend you read it.

The book is divided like a tree, into sections–root, trunk, crown and seeds. At first, I wondered where the vignettes were going, then in the trunk I began to smile with glee. Things began to make a lot of sense and the magic of storytelling really began to unfold.

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful book and one of the best written works I have ever read.

The Overstory is an effort to help remind we the living that trees are critical to the future of our success as humans. And while environmentalists rant and rave about how killing the trees is killing the planet, part of what Powers writes suggests that when we do away with what is keeping us alive as humans, trees and forests, the things that have been around for millions of years, long before us, will rejuvenate. Those that we kill off may not, but then again….


There are some great quotes in the book I just had to pull and share that won’t give away the book. Really good lines that are very true to heart.

“And what do good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” pg 412

Amen to that. And that’s what reading this book did to me. At the end I felt a little sick in my heart. I think that was the grieving part I felt. An unsettled anger from reading what happened to the characters.

“Noah took all the animals two by two, and loaded them aboard his escape craft for evacuation. But it’s a funny thing: He left the plants to die. He failed to take the one thing he needed to rebuild life on land, and concentrated on saving the freeloaders!” pg 451

Powers is clearly a science guy. I don’t know how spiritual he is. But what’s clear about this, what Noah didn’t do, is things worked out well regardless. Trees and grasses and all that worked out well even if Noah didn’t take them on the ark. That says something about the staying power of Nature, does it not? The character who said that in the book, I’m not sure understood that point. Maybe that was the point she was making, that plants and particularly trees, they have a power we do not understand and they are going to be around and are going to adapt to this world despite what we do.

“The year’s clocks are off by a month or two.” pg 452

He dabbles in the climate change, global warming argument here. I won’t get into that briar patch.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” pg 488

Richard Powers presents some great arguments in this book by telling a masterful story. The problem with helping spread the word of this story is that it’s 500 pages long. Few people are going to dedicate that long to reading something that long in this day and age. But those who do, I promise, are in for a treat.

I loved this book. Someday, I may read it again.

The writing is rich and colorful. When characters spend 10 months on a platform in a great redwood out west living 20 stories above the forest floor, you feel like you’re doing the same. His writing is superb. I highly recommend this book. I just wonder, if the intent was to move people to action, if it had to be so long. But as a writer, don’t know where I could or would cut a single thing.

The writing is poetry and it was a story worth telling from beginning to end.