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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393

In an exploration of U.S. society and ecology that spans a half century, Richard Powers both confirms the legacy of 19th-century nature worshippers such as Henry Thoreau and offers a fresh perspective on America’s complicated relationship with the natural world. He organizes the novel around tree-related themes in four sections titled Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds. By initially offering vignettes of nine characters’ arboreal interactions, Powers shows multiple dimensions of dependence on trees; he also offers the intriguing idea of the trees’ possible agency, rather than relegating them to passive recipients of human action.

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As the novel develops over its more than 500 pages, the reader learns how the initial experience continued to impact the characters and shows how their lives are intertwined. Concern for the survival and health of trees and forests becomes the principle that joins their convictions and actions, but sometimes it also drives them apart. Botanical research by Patricia Westerford, who discovers how trees communicate with each other and form communities, promises to transform human attitudes but cannot bridge the mainstream skepticism.

On the West Coast, a near-fatal accident impels Olivia Vandergriff to campaign for giant redwoods. Nicholas Hoel, an artist who sold his family farm, draws on his memories and family photographs of a majestic chestnut tree to inspire him to join Olivia in her cause. They become tree sitters, refusing to come down for a year. Graduate student Adam Appich turns from academic...

(The entire section contains 393 words.)

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