“It’s easy to forget how wondrous humans are, how strange and lovely. Through photography and art, each of us has seen things we’ll never see – the surface of Mars, the bioluminescent fish of the deep ocean, a seventeenth-century girl with a pearl earring. Through empathy, we’ve felt things we might never have otherwise felt. Through the rich world of imagination, we’ve seen apocalypses large and small.”– John Green, “Humanity’s Temporal Range”: The Anthropocene Reviewed
For those new to this book or perhaps new to the word “Anthropocene” altogether, Webster defines the term as, “relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment”.
In this collection of essays, famous YA author, podcaster, vlogger, and educator describes seemingly random items and phenomena from the human-centered planet in the form of five star reviews. These reviews detail Green’s personal experience with the topic and often include interesting bits of history along the way. This, however, is not what makes the book so great. What makes the book phenomenal and often profound is Green’s ability to relate a specific object or phenomena to the collective human experience: Halley’s Comet to the all too fast and yet also agonizingly slow march of time, or Diet Dr Pepper to human vice and uniqueness. Green somehow manages to make even Canada Geese profound.
My three favorite essays review the topics of “Humanity’s Temporal Range”, “Jerzy Dudek’s Performance on May 25, 2005”, and “Googling Strangers”. As you can see from these three titles alone, Green’s book contains multitudes. By the end of it, you’ll realize that you contain multitudes as well.
I do not wish to spoil any of these essays for you with too much discussion, but I will suffice it to say that I cried, more than once. I read this book with a highlighter in hand; something I rarely do now that I am finished with college (for the time being) and read purely for enjoyment. I often found myself gasping in awe at how Green, ever the story teller, could take thousand word essays on disparate topics and weave together not only a coherent story for humanity, but also a deeply personal narrative for himself and for me. I found an accurate portrayal of my own anxiety in descriptions of Green’s anxiety, of my curiosity and awe in the awe of those who first witnessed the Lascaux Cave Paintings, and of my own fear and worry and hope in Green’s musings on human memory and climate change. Green’s greatest gift to readers is his ability to slow us down and make us notice that there are still roses to be smelled.
But I also saw God in this book, as something beyond a nebulously indifferent or justifiably miffed sky being. I do not mean to say this is a religious book, or anything more than tangentially related to religion. I saw God in a way that sadly we Christians are all too often not taught to see and I saw my faith reflected back to me as if in a mirror. There are days I struggle with questions much like an incessant toddler and there are days that I struggle with questions and concerns too large for words. There are many days I live too much inside my own head, and lose my ability to look outward into the world. Green reminds us all that the world is a mess and that we should look anyway. The world is a mess and we should look at it because it so. There are beautiful people in this world, people who are flawed and strange, people who do have a hope and a future. This book encourages to see them and to see ourselves in the world around us.
“It all makes a kind of sense: I don’t just need the light of that star to survive; I am in many ways a product of its light, which is basically how I feel about God… Do I believe in God? I believe around God. But I can only believe in what I am in – sunlight and shadow, oxygen and carbon dioxide, solar systems and galaxies.”– John Green, “Sunsets”: The Anthropocene Reviewed
- Easy to read in spurts.
- Multiple topics, all of which are interesting.
- Refreshingly candid and honest.
- Very similar to podcast. (But it wasn’t a problem for me!)
- It does bounce around a bit in time and topic if you’re trying to read it all at once.
“It became a statement that we are here – meaning that we are together, and not alone. And it’s also a statement that we are, that we exist. And it’s a statement that were are here, that a series of astonishing unlikelihoods has made us possible and here possible. We might never know why were are here, but we can still proclaim in hope that we are here.”– John Green, “Auld Lang Syne”: The Anthropocene Reviewed
- People who want to take a deeper look at the world around them.
- Those feeling lost or depressed in a covid-centered world.
- A group wanting something meaty to discuss with friends.
- Fans of John Green’s other works – YA novels, Vlog Brothers, Crash Course, etc.
Books to Read if You Loved The Anthropocene Reviewed:
- You are an Artist: Assignments to Spark Creation by Sara Urist Green
- Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
- Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
- Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- In what unexpected object, person, or moment did you last experience astonishing beauty that took your breath away?
- What worries you about humanity? What gives you hope?
- If you had to give a review of your city or hometown, what rating would you give it? How does your city earn that rating?