What I enjoy most about being part of the blogging community are the super-duper-awesome-out of my bubble- book recommendations I receive. The Overstory is such an example – dear Tierney recommended this book after reading my review of The New Wilderness by Diane Cook. Thank you so much, Tierney!

The Overstory in a nutshell

The Overstory is a book about 9 people whose lives are connected to trees – a tree researcher, a protester against deforestation, an artist whose ancestors planted a famous chestnut, a soldier saved by a banyan tree, just to name a few. Their lives interconnect in different manners, as their experiences address at some point a common theme: the destruction of forests.

Apart from human characters of the story, the book also has tree characters. They’re old and wise, strong, and widely misunderstood. Chestnuts, mulberry trees, Spanish oaks, Banyan trees – they’re the giant characters of The Overstory.

But … what’s an overstory?

In my ignorance I initially assumed that an overstory is a complex story, like the overarching story … nope, it’s actually a scientific term.

The overstory is a botanical term meaning the higher layer of vegetation in a forest. The picture below explains nicely how to identify the overstory and the understory of a forest.

Depiction of overstory and understory. Source: ResearchGate.net

Overall impression

The Overstory is a super interesting book. With 600+ pages, complex storyline and super diverse characters, it offers plenty of opportunities to find a topic or character that you relate to. Plus, it has trees as story nucleus – how not to enjoy it?

The main sections of the book mirror the parts of a tree (Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds). The part I enjoyed most was Roots – the collection of short stories through which all main characters are introduced to the reader.

The only not-positive thing I noticed is that, at times, the story tends to feel a bit too long and a bit too didactic. But maybe it was just me … if you read The Overstory, what’s your take on it?

The secret lives of trees

Despite being a fiction book, parts of The Overstory are inspired from reality. For instance, Patricia Westerford  – the tree researcher from the book – is a reflection of Suzanne Simard – a Canadian scientist, “pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence”.

Just to give you a glimpse, Simard conducted research on how trees interact and communicate using underground fungal networks. It seems that forests have Mother Trees (or hub trees), which are “large, highly connected trees that play an important role in the flow of information and resources in a forest”. Quite fascinating, isn’t it?


To conclude, I think that The Overstory is a book that should be read. Not only that it’s an amazing work of fiction, but it also encompasses valuable lessons about trees and how human beings interact with trees. And, more importantly, how much we as humanity hurt trees and nature.

Richard Powers published more than 10 novels, the most recent being Bewilderment. Have you read any stories by Richard Powers? Is he on your “bookish radar”

‘Till next time … happy reading!


8 thoughts on “You’ll never look at trees the same way again: The Overstory by Richard Powers (book review)

    1. Yep, same here!! While reading the book I actually thought several times “what is the relation of the title with the story?”… but haven’t thought about checking the meaning of the word :))

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s