Review: The Anthropocene Reviewed
Updated: May 9, 2022
The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, by John Green (2021)
I first came to The Anthropocene Reviewed through John Green's podcast of the same name, where Green "reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale." In case you're not familiar with the word, the Anthropocene is "the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity." Reviews include the Notes app, the strange phenomenon of sports rivalries, humanity’s capacity for wonder, sunsets, the teenage celebration known as prom, and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (and so many more).
I was skeptical at first, as my only previous experience with Green was reading The Fault in Our Stars, which made me cry like a baby, but I wasn't convinced I could handle more of the same. But the premise interested me, so I gave it a shot. In his heartfelt reviews Green is acutely earnest and sentimental, but this comes across as honest and vulnerable instead of sickly sweet. I thoroughly enjoyed each episode as it popped up in my Podcasts app every few weeks, and then went about my day - usually feeling a little bit more appreciative of the world around me.
What I love about the book is that I get it all at once, and let me tell you... Just now? I really needed it. Confession time: I've been having a much harder time so far in 2021 than I did in 2020. Apparently it's not uncommon to feel the loss of a loved one hit harder in year two. So there's that. But also somehow in 2020 I was able to maintain a level of hope and a belief in humanity's baseline goodness, despite all the horrific things that 2020 brought the world. I had hope that Biden would win, I had hope that the pandemic would be short lived (like 3-6 months, maybe?!), I had hope that the Black Lives Matter movement would result in some fundamental changes. I enjoyed working from home, and having a flexible schedule, and exploring new-to-me places in and around Rochester. I am at heart an introvert, so time alone didn't alarm me. I missed my friends and family, but I didn't realize how long it would be until I could be in the same room as them again, so it didn't feel all that heavy (yet). I didn't know that it would be over a year until I could get just one simple hug from a friend, so I was, in those moments, patient for the wait.
All this to say that by about March of 2021 I didn't feel much of that hope or patience anymore. And yes, this is also my annual winter-doldrums month... I really need to put a yearly reminder in my phone: "It's ok Tate, you don't actually hate everything and everyone including yourself. It's just March." And then this book showed up at my doorstep. I'd forgotten I'd ordered it (I order stuff online and then am quick to forget, which makes opening packages very exciting!).
But look at all this talking I've done by way of avoiding an actual review. Because I don't actually know what to say about The Anthropocene Reviewed. I'm not sure how to convey how necessary it is. The phrase "everyone should read this book" has been used way too many times to be meaningful, from textbook-like tomes about economics to "classics" of literature that we're forced to read in middle school (you'll never convince me that The Red Badge of Courage was worth my time). And I can't even really share a favorite quote with you because I underlined so much of this book that it might be easier to share what I didn't underline.
I guess I'm going to keep my actual review quite simple and say that for me, it was the perfect book for an imperfect time. For my imperfect time. For "these imperfect times," in quotation marks, and said in a lofty voice. It delves into the things that make life so damn hard - so shitty, and unmanageable, and unfathomably sad - and figures out a way to make them a little less shitty, a little more manageable. But not with rose colored glasses on, and not by talking about silver linings. Just by saying, hey, even if a thing is still unfathomably sad, there is also a kind of beauty in holding that sadness, and solace in doing it with others.
"The only path forward is true solidarity - not only in hope, but also in lamentation."
I'll end this the same way Green ends each essay, with his 1-5 star review:
I give John Green and his Anthropocene Reviewed... 5 stars.
I give the Anthropocene itself... 4 stars.
UP NEXT: Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandermeer