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All of Richard Powers’ Books in Order!
Who is Richard Powers?
Born in 1957, Richard Powers is a celebrated American novelist, winner of the National Book Award in 2006 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2019, among others. Powers was working as a programmer at Boston when he quit his job after being inspired to write a book after seeing the 1914 photograph “Young Farmers” by August Sander at the Museum of Fine Arts.
His books explore themes connected to science and technology, but the nature of consciousness, history, and moral obligation. Genetics, artificial intelligence, bio-terrorism, our connection to nature, and how an individual life might still make a difference in this world are part of Richard Powers’ tapestry.
How to read Richard Powers Books in Order?
- Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985) — In the spring of 1914, renowned photographer August Sander took a photograph of three young men on their way to a country dance. This haunting image, capturing the last moments of innocence on the brink of World War I, provides the central focus of Powers’s brilliant and compelling novel. As the fate of the three farmers is chronicled, two contemporary stories unfold. The young narrator becomes obsessed with the photo, while Peter Mays, a computer writer in Boston, discovers he has a personal link with it. The three stories connect in a surprising way and offer the reader a glimpse into a mystery that spans a century of brutality and progress.
- Prisoner’s Dilemma (1988) — Something is wrong with Eddie Hobson, Sr., father of four, sometime history teacher, quiz master, black humorist, and virtuoso invalid. His recurring fainting spells have worsened, and given his ingrained aversion to doctors, his worried family tries to discover the nature of his sickness. Meanwhile, in private, Eddie puts the finishing touches on a secret project he calls Hobbstown, a place that he promises will save him, the world, and everything that’s in it.
- The Gold Bug Variations (1991) — Stuart Ressler, an up-and-coming molecular biologist, finds his career sidetracked by the turmoil of the sixties, and a young couple of the 1980s tries to discover why the biologist abandoned his scientific pursuits.
- Operation Wandering Soul (1993) — In the pediatrics ward of a public hospital in the heart of Los Angeles, a group of sick children is gathering. Surrogate parents to this band of stray kids, resident Richard Kraft and therapist Linda Espera are charged with keeping the group alive on make-believe alone. Determined to give hope where there is none, the adults spin a desperate anthology of stories that promise restoration and escape. But the inevitable is foreshadowed in the faces they’ve grown to love, and ultimately Richard and Linda must return to forgotten chapters in their own lives in order to make sense of the conclusion drawing near.
- Galatea 2.2 (1995) — After four novels and several years living abroad, the fictional protagonist of Galatea 2.2―Richard Powers―returns to the United States as Humanist-in-Residence at the enormous Center for the Study of Advanced Sciences. There he runs afoul of Philip Lentz, an outspoken cognitive neurologist intent upon modeling the human brain by means of computer-based neural networks. Lentz involves Powers in an outlandish and irresistible project: to train a neural net on a canonical list of Great Books. Through repeated tutorials, the device grows gradually more worldly, until it demands to know its own name, sex, race, and reason for existing.
- Gain (1998) — In one, Laura Body, divorced mother of two and a real-estate agent in the small town of Lacewood, Illinois, plunges into a new existence when she learns that she has ovarian cancer. In the other, Clare & Company, a soap manufacturer begun by three brothers in nineteenth-century Boston, grows over the course of a century and a half into an international consumer products conglomerate based in Laura’s hometown. Clare’s stunning growth reflects the kaleidoscopic history of America; Laura Body’s life is changed forever by Clare.
- Plowing the Dark (2000) — In a digital laboratory on the shores of Puget Sound, a band of virtual-reality researchers races to complete the Cavern, an empty white room that can become a jungle, a painting, or a vast Byzantine cathedral. In a war-torn Mediterranean city, an American is held hostage, chained to a radiator in another empty white room. What can possibly join these two remote places? Only the shared imagination, a room that these people unwittingly build in common, where they are all about to meet. Adie Klarpol, a skilled but disillusioned artist, comes back to life, revived by the thrill of working with cutting-edge technology. Against the collapse of Cold War empires and the fall of the Berlin Wall, she retreats dangerously into the cyber-realities she has been hired to create. On the other side of the globe, Taimur Martin, an English teacher recovering from a failed love affair, is picked up off the streets in Beirut by Islamic fundamentalists and held in solitary captivity.
- The Time of Our Singing (2002) — On Easter day, 1939, at Marian Anderson’s epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish émigré scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Black Philadelphian studying to be a singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and―against all odds and their better judgment―they marry. They vow to raise their children beyond time, beyond identity, steeped only in song. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth grow up, however, during the civil rights era, coming of age in the violent 1960s, and living out adulthood in the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, “whose voice could make heads of state repent,” follows a life in his parents’ beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, devotes herself to community activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this generation-bridging tale, struggles to find himself and remain connected to them both.
- The Echo Maker (2006) — On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges from a coma, he believes that this woman―who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister―is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark’s accident, threatens to change all of their lives beyond recognition. In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our boldest and most entertaining novelists.
- Generosity (2009) — What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we begin to rewrite our own existence.
- Orfeo (2014) — Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab―the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns―has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive and hatches a plan to transform this disastrous collision with the security state into an unforgettable work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around it.
- The Overstory (2018) — An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. 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. These four, and five other strangers―each summoned in different ways by trees―are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.
- Bewilderment (2021) — The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain…
If you like Richard Powers, you may also want to see our Colson Whitehead reading order, or our guide to Elizabeth Strout books. Don’t hesitate to follow us on Twitter or Facebook to discover more book series.