An American writer of modern technology and science-themed works, he is best known for his National Book Award-winning novel, The Echo Maker. His other literary works include Plowing the Dark and The Time of Our Singing.
He entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a physics major, but graduated as an English major.
August Sander's 1914 photograph, "Young Farmers," inspired Powers to quit his job and become a writer. He published his debut novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, in 1985.
He was the Illinois-born son of a school principal. He spent part of his childhood in Thailand, where his father worked at the International School in Bangkok.
He and Karen Tei Yamashita were both finalists for the National Book Award.