Review by Kristine Goulding
Published by Random House, 2021, 304 pages.
The Anthropocene—a term that I had to Google when first faced with it—is the current geological age in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity.
This book comprises a series of essays that reviews different parts of the human experience, on a five-star scale: from Super Mario Kart (4 stars) to air-conditioning (3 stars), from viral meningitis (1 star) to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (2 stars) to humanity’s temporal range (4 stars), the scope is remarkable. What were originally podcasts are turned beautifully into a collection of digestible but deeply emotional and philosophical essays of around four to six pages.
Each essay comes across as an in-the-moment meditation. At times, Green describes exactly what he’s doing while writing the essay, and you feel as if you are sitting there alongside him. His focus at times is on tiny, seemingly insignificant things (for example, I never thought the interplay of light on leaves could be so interesting), but he also tackles the major questions, like how the internet has changed us as a species. He pens essays about his anxiety, about his time spent training as a chaplain, raw pieces that are admirable for their complexity and honesty—and there isn’t always a straightforward answer or conclusion. Green simultaneously paints a deeply honest roadmap of his life and the Anthropocene, focusing on coping with the condition of our deeply bizarre, ultra-modern world and unintentionally creating an unfinished list of reasons to love being alive. He writes with such unconditional love for the world—it’s no small feat to convince me that the answer to my problems is to visit Indianapolis.
Although, as the title would suggest, many essays lean more towards critiques (some harsher than others), there’s no bitterness in this collection. That’s what truly made The Anthropocene Reviewed special—regardless of the subject, you can still feel the wonder and hope in Green’s voice. He shows that you can turn almost anything and everything into something beautiful. Despite his all-too-relatable frustration, this is overall quite an optimistic book.
In yet another remarkable achievement, Green autographed 200,000 copies of the book, so the first page gives a direct, physical connection to the author. He explains this quirk in an episode of the podcast that didn’t make it into the book, explaining the three months he spent in the basement with a Sharpie was a crucial moment for his mental health. There’s something delightful about having a signed copy of a book, and one can’t help but feel a connection to the complex, unique and beautiful author. Highly recommended (5 stars, even).
Buy from Bookshop.org UK / Bookshop.org USA
6 thoughts on “The Anthropocene Reviewed—Essays on a Human-Centred Planet: John Green”
A very different literature perspective for John Green. Of course his theme of seeing the glass as half full seems to come through here. Funny I was looking at Upstream by Mary Oliver – an essay collection and there was your review about the essay form.
I haven’t come across Mary Oliver, so will look her up. This review is by a friend, who had put me onto John Green’s podcasts, which is how the book first started out.
Thanks for that Suroor.
Suroor, I think we’re more or less same generation, and I also think you, as a child or teenager, had some glimpses of what the 20th and 21st centuries would be like. I do remember vividly our first ‘digital’ watches, the first Japanese manga ever shown on French TV (Goldorak), I remember me, wondering if I needed to buy a ‘cell phone’ in order to be in touch with my baby girl’s day carer (believing those phones were just a fad), and my very first researches on the net, which we called the WWW at the time.
Sometimes I wish all those technologies hadn’t happened that fast. A teacher of mine always said that the 21st-century-Man would be be some Homo Ludens Ludens, meaning , modern men would focus no more on reason, but on instant gratification and pleasure.
True. I can actually remember when the first cassette player came out! Technology has moved so fast since then.
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