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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin. 

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018.

The New York Times best seller.

A wondrous, exhilarating novel about nine strangers brought together by an unfolding natural catastrophe.

An artist inherits 100 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 crew member 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.

©2018 Richard Powers (P)2018 Random House Audiobooks

Critic reviews

"Really, just one of the best novels, period." (Ann Patchett) 

"The best book I’ve [listened to] in ten years." (Emma Thompson)

"Dazzlingly written." (Robert Macfarlane)

What listeners say about The Overstory

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Extraordinary

In a way, this novel tells us more about the understory than The Overstory. In spite of painting a world, ours, on the brink of disaster, it gives us defiance against so called ‘human progress’, sensitive intelligence towards and solidarity with Nature, a generous love of humanity, and, most of all, the possibility of redemption for our crimes against the Earth. And trees are the giant heroes of this story in an astonishingly empathetic, intelligent and generous way.
The rich, poetical, inventive, beautiful language of Richard Powers is a joy to listen to. And the reader conveys all these and the strength of the story perfectly.
Some readers might find this novel periphrastic and over long, but, in my opinion, this format could be seen as an almost pictorial representation of the shape and nature of trees themselves - trunks, growing, expanding, intertwining branches, leaves and roots.
Wonderful and necessary reading.

12 people found this helpful

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Lockdown literature

This takes me to places that need 20 years to understand. Listening in a spring under lockdown has been a solace.

8 people found this helpful

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This book is amazing

I think everyone should read The Overstory. It’s a life changer. It does not anthropomorphise trees and nature but makes a very good argument for leaving them alone to save us as well as them. This wonderful, upsetting at times but also a fantastic story is a cry for conservation and a vital warning to self obsessed, money hungry humans....

7 people found this helpful

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Too tangential on the technical

The topic is very important and I was initially captivated by setting up the human vignettes around a type of tree. But the characters were never really developed, just stylized. And the details on the trees got to be a bit mind-numbing. I have about 5 hours to go, but not sure I will make it.

6 people found this helpful

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The best book I ever read

It's a terrifying story beautifully told. It makes me wonder if I would have lived my life differently if I'd read it at twenty. I hope I'm not an aggressive spore blighting a beautiful thing but I'm not sure.

4 people found this helpful

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wonderful book

I learnt so much about trees and history from this book. Definitely one to listen to over and over again.

4 people found this helpful

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Phenomenal

Richard Powers writes beautifully, researches meticulously and weaves stories that are completely engrossing and totally convincing. The Overstory is both a moving and powerful work of fiction and a convincing manifesto for trees.

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Too Complex for audio

I only managed a half of Part One as I found the narrative too difficult to follow in audio version. As I listen while stitching I couldn’t remember where I’d left off, every time. Perhaps best if listened to without any distraction at all, which is not how I usually listen.

8 people found this helpful

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Phenomenal, beautiful, heartbreaking… the trees tell the story…

This is one of the greatest novels I have ever read.

The prose is beyond exquisite. The characters are visceral, intelligent and engaging. The imagination, consciousness and knowledge of author, Richard Powers, is enthralling and educational.

I have always loved trees but I feel even closer to them now, more protective of them and far more aware of their importance and necessity in the world they and we inhabit and I fear a world without them.

I often re-listened to sections to make sure I fully got the meaning and understanding of the author’s messages and insights and those of the trees and the novel’s characters . I am certain I will read the whole novel again one day as there’s so much to take in, so much to see, hear, notice and feel.

The descriptions of the environment, time and place as well as the unfolding events, are vivid and the dialogue is so natural, you never feel separate from the story.

The narrator has the perfect voice, tone and expressiveness to bring the book to life - her ability to swap from character to character and do that so brilliantly ensures the reader recognises who is who and what they are each about.

I loved this Overstory in a way words cannot describe, even though I have done my best to! And while some may find it a small challenge to get to grips with it in the early chapters, it is well worth the investment of continuing. You won’t be disappointed.

I will never ever be made to feel silly for hugging trees again! They need our love and respect… and if this story is anything to go by, the rewards could be life changing for the future of our planet.

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Woah!!

Incredible listen!

I had read the written book also but wanted to follow up with reviewing it whilst on commute.

Fantastically done - a work of art!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lisl Barry
  • 14-10-19

Enchanting, tragic, hopeful

Enchanting - I am an artist by profession, with a fascination for forests and trees and have done many works centred around this subject matter. Richard Powers' prose inspired an other world level of appreciation and awareness for me. I loved the intertwining stories of the main characters to trees and each other.

Tragic - A work of fiction I know, but so much of it is based on truths and reality. What humans do! Have done and continue to do to the environment. Every human should read this story.

Hopeful - That should people wake up to the true value of trees and breathe in the beauty and wonder of forests there will be hope. And having said that they will recover if left in peace, in spite of humans.

I do agree that there was a point at which the story could have ended earlier than it did but I for one was glad to hear more. In fact I listened to the book twice for any hidden intricacies that I may have missed first time round and to repeat the magic of the book's true heros : the trees. I loved it.

The reader's voice I found to be rather austere for my taste. If you feel the same (listening to the sample) don't let it put you off... she does a great job all the same.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-08-19

The most difficult book you have to read

This story is the literary mirror that you will struggle to look into. It's beautifully written; poetic at times and at times, pure story-telling in the ancient ways that stories were told. Full of myth-in-the-making it tells of the anti-heros that in time will become the seeds of gods. It will be very difficult to read at times because the truth hurts, but you will feel lighter, wiser and More when you are done.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 25-07-19

A remarkable and complex effort.

This book has changed my life (as it should). Haunting, dazzling, daunting, superb, devastating and so, so BEAUTIFUL.

2 people found this helpful

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  • sally ohare
  • 13-02-20

An inspiring awesome tale. Loveable characters

An important message for humanity told in an engaging way. Thank you. So much for the telling.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Earnest
  • 19-01-19

So important, but needs sustained attention

I loved this book but it is speaking to the converted. All the authorial devices used, I get. But. Many who should be learning what this book so earnestly attempts to teach, will give up because of its flaws.
What a shame. Most of it is so beautiful. But repetition and polemics repel many people, particularly if they don’t love trees. This tale will not convert them. So sorry.
The voice actor is splendid.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 30-03-19

Could have been an interesting book...

I found it really difficult to finish the book. Although I like to general idea of the book — I really wanted to like it — I didn’t find the story and the naration engaging enough. I am also annoyed with the way the narrator mimicked different accents.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 02-04-22

love love love THIS story

everything about this
inspired inspirational
transporting
possibly my favorite read ever
performance was excellent

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  • SaurabhAnu
  • 27-02-22

A book that haunts forever

As I finished the audiobook, outside rain pitter patters on leaves and the eucalyptuses murmur one message: ‘We will be here long after you have gone’.

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  • N. Murphy
  • 09-11-21

My life’s story!

This beautiful profound interweaving tale is the story of nine characters who learn to see and then fight for the natural world that the majority and powers that be, can’t seem to tear down fast enough.

Suspenseful, never predictable and filled with stories within stories of fateful injustices and human endeavour and creativity to counter. Each character uniquely lures and winds you in, as the story unfolds.

It was a shocking revelation of what’s gone on across my lifetime before my very eyes. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 and her love and awe for the natural world is echoed in the voice of Patricia Westerfield, a brilliant and dedicated scientist, alone in her seeing and victim to the cruelty that only Homo sapiens can inflict upon itself so artfully time and time again.

A recent history of sorts, so recent that it brings us to yesterday ( I write this as COP26 in Glasgow takes place ), raising questions we know we should rest upon but we’re are too busy to : when will we act to alter our insatiable habits? will artists and storytellers be our prophets? who owns the natural world really?will the internet save us or lead us to AI that like the natural world will be much smarter than we seem to be able to be?

And then I’m forgetting the voices of the trees that seem to climb over you as you listen to this tale. Richard powers has researched so thoroughly the worlds of The Overstory but he clearly knows and loves trees for every mention is a reminder to look closer and be stiller. And finally, Suzanne Toren voices each character with such veracity and tenderness and narrates superbly. I am so grateful to have listened to this beautiful book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-10-21

Excellent writing, intriguing plot

Beautiful language and lovely to read but it is a very long and drawn out plot. Still it gives a powerful message.