Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

Reviews of Bewilderment by Richard Powers


A Novel

by Richard Powers

Bewilderment by Richard Powers X
Bewilderment by Richard Powers
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2021, 288 pages

    Nov 2022, 288 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A heartrending new novel from the Pulitzer Prize–winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Overstory.

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…

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son's ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers's most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

BUT WE MIGHT NEVER FIND THEM? We'd set up the scope on the deck, on a clear autumn night, on the edge of one of the last patches of darkness in the eastern U.S. Darkness this good was hard to come by, and so much darkness in one place lit up the sky. We pointed the tube through a gap in the trees above our rented cabin. Robin pulled his eye from the eyepiece—my sad, singular, newly turning nine-year-old, in trouble with this world.

"Exactly right," I said. "We might never find them."

I always tried to tell him the truth, if I knew it and it wasn't lethal. He knew when I lied, anyway.

But they're all over, right? You guys have proved it.

"Well, not exactly proved."

Maybe they're too far away. Too much empty space or something.

His arms pinwheeled as they did when words defeated him. We were closing in on bedtime, which didn't help. I put my hand on his wild auburn mop. Her color—Aly's.

"And what if we never heard a peep from out there? What...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Bewilderment opens with Robin's question about life on other planets—But we might never find them? (p. 1). How does this question apply to the novel's concerns, extraterrestrial and otherwise? In what ways does it establish the scope of the novel's interests?
  2. "Multiply every grain of sand on Earth by the number of trees. One hundred octillion" (p. 8). This is how Theo describes the number of stars in the universe to Robin, and it's one of many ways Richard Powers illustrates the enormity of the natural world. What are some other examples that stood out to you? Why did they have an impact?
  3. When Theo and Robin encounter a bear traffic jam in the Smokies, Theo thinks, "Our species had grown so desperate for alien contact ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!
  • award image


BookBrowse Review


Powers is in full control of his myriad themes and packs a lot into 200-some pages. When I came to the breathtaking final paragraph of Bewilderment, I felt despondent and overwhelmed. I wasn't sure I could forgive Powers for the ending. But as time has passed, the book's feral beauty has stuck with me, and Robin in particular won't leave my mind. His neurodivergence, viewed as a problem by authority figures in the novel, seems to allow him greater communion with other species, and perhaps even with the dead. The pure sense of wonder that Robin embodies is worth imitating...continued

Full Review (795 words)

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Powers is an essential member of the pantheon of writers who are using fiction to address climate change. Bewilderment shows how tenuous their hopes may be.

Washington Post
Following 2018's transcendent Pulitzer-winning The Overstory, Bewilderment is a quieter novel that is nonetheless achingly current and wise.

New York Times
Bewilderment is so meek, saccharine and overweening in its piety about nature that even a teaspoon of it numbs the mind...equal parts earnest opinion-page essay (humans + nature = yikes) and middling Netflix science fiction product (boy reconnects with dead mother through high tech)...There are some books you want to give to your best friend; this is one to give to your distant aunt, for her reading group. It's a James Taylor song when you require a buzz-saw guitar.

Booklist (starred review)
Soaring descriptions and forthright observations about our planet...Offers rich commentary on the complex, often mystifying intersections between science, popular culture, and politics...As the best-selling The Overstory continues to reverberate, readers will be excited to turn to another deeply involving Powers novel.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.

Library Journal (starred review)
Writing with the same remarkable attention to detail found in his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory, Powers has created a world and characters that will suck readers in and keep them fixed until the literally bitter end.

Publishers Weekly
[A] marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life...The planetary descriptions grow a bit repetitive and don't gain narrative traction, but in the end, Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime. Though it's not his masterpiece, it shows the work of a master.

Reader Reviews

Tony C.

A Doozy
“Bewilderment” by Richard Powers only has one flaw: it is not “The Overstory," his sweeping epic combined stories about trees to meditate on the importance of all living things. Instead, an astrobiologist must raise a son, who may be on the Spectrum,...   Read More
Robert Ironside

A heart warming story of a fathers whose son is autistic and in all his fathers attempts to enroll his son in scientific therapy his son succumbs to his desperation. I cried at the culmination of the story.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Youth Environmental Activism

Young people marching with sign that says Youth for Climate Action NowIn Richard Powers' Bewilderment, nine-year-old Robin Byrne is distressed at the plight of endangered species and commits to painting as many of them as he can, as well as undertaking one-kid protests outside the Wisconsin statehouse and in the nation's capital. He specifically emulates a character called "Inga Alder," who is clearly based on Greta Thunberg.

Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, has been in the public eye since 2018, when she encouraged students around the world to join her on school strikes, walking out of their classrooms on Fridays to draw attention to the urgency of the climate crisis. Millions participated. Since then, she has met with world leaders and made speeches before the U.S. Congress and the United Nations (UN). Her ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Bewilderment, try these:

  • The Last Animal jacket

    The Last Animal

    by Ramona Ausubel

    Published 2024

    About this book

    More by this author

    A playful, witty, and resonant novel in which a single mother and her two teen daughters engage in a wild scientific experiment and discover themselves in the process, from the award-winning writer of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

  • Our Missing Hearts jacket

    Our Missing Hearts

    by Celeste Ng

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother's unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

We have 8 read-alikes for Bewilderment, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Richard Powers
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Bitter Crop
    Bitter Crop
    by Paul Alexander
    In 1958, Billie Holiday began work on an ambitious album called Lady in Satin. Accompanied by a full...
  • Book Jacket: Under This Red Rock
    Under This Red Rock
    by Mindy McGinnis
    Since she was a child, Neely has suffered from auditory hallucinations, hearing voices that demand ...
  • Book Jacket: Clear
    by Carys Davies
    John Ferguson is a principled man. But when, in 1843, those principles drive him to break from the ...
  • Book Jacket: Change
    by Edouard Louis
    Édouard Louis's 2014 debut novel, The End of Eddy—an instant literary success, published ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Only the Beautiful
by Susan Meissner
A heartrending story about a young mother’s fight to keep her daughter, and the terrible injustice that tears them apart.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The House on Biscayne Bay
    by Chanel Cleeton

    As death stalks a gothic mansion in Miami, the lives of two women intertwine as the past and present collide.

  • Book Jacket

    The Flower Sisters
    by Michelle Collins Anderson

    From the new Fannie Flagg of the Ozarks, a richly-woven story of family, forgiveness, and reinvention.

Win This Book
Win The Funeral Cryer

The Funeral Cryer by Wenyan Lu

Debut novelist Wenyan Lu brings us this witty yet profound story about one woman's midlife reawakening in contemporary rural China.



Solve this clue:

M as A H

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.