The Anthropocene (loosely translated as the “Age of Man”) is the proposed geologic age in which humans have profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. Especially in the past 50 years, a period known as the Great Acceleration, the world has undergone rapid changes — for the better and the worse. While the Anthropocene is yet to be ratified and its starting point is still hotly debated among geologists, it is now undisputed that human activity has profoundly altered the planet. Technologization, globalization, and medical advances have simplified our lives and allowed us to live longer, but at the expense of the nonhuman world. Welcome to the Age of Man!
Writing at a time when climate change and a deadly pandemic are threatening the very existence of the human race, John Green reviews different facets of the human-centred planet on a 5-star scale – from big philosophical questions like humanity’s temporal range to pop-culture phenomena like Penguins of Madagascar.
John Green is best known as an author of YA fiction, but with this book he proves that he can do non-fiction just as well. Although the title sounds rather intimidating on a first look, the writing is really accessible and engaging. The short essays are a mixture of random observations, personal reflections and interesting facts that will have you chuckle, laugh, cry and ponder on the meaning of life.
“We are at once far too powerful and not nearly powerful enough. We are powerful enough to radically reshape Earth’s climate and biodiversity, but not powerful enough to choose how we reshape them.”
Green was writing the essays during the first lockdown in 2020 and I could feel the loneliness and fear he experienced throughout the time whilst reading the book. If anything, the pandemic has made us pause and reflect on our lives. The central paradox of the Anthropocene, as Green explains, is that we as a species have become far too powerful, yet are at the same time not nearly powerful enough. We can travel to space, but we are helpless against a virus invisible to the naked eye. Green illustrates this contradiction with many – seemingly mundane – examples. For instance, what has Diet Dr Pepper or air-conditioning got to do with humanity’s flawed existence in the Anthropocene? Well, Green will tell you.
“We all know how loving ends. But I want to fall in love with the world anyway, to let it crack me open. I want to feel what there is to feel while I am here.”
In the end, Green also offers hope at times of despair. We’re flawed but not doomed. The pandemic may have revealed all our flaws, but it has also bound us together. “It’s easy to forget,” Green writes, “how wondrous humans are, how strange and lovely.” However grim the future of the Anthropocene might appear, Green sees light at the end of the tunnel.
I urge everyone to read this book! It’s a thought-provoking, moving and honest look at our world as much as an insightful reflection of Green’s own life. You can tell by the quotes he’s using that he knows and deeply cares about what he is talking about.
I give The Anthropocene Reviewed 4 stars.
Have you read The Anthropocene Reviewed? How did you like it? Let me know in the comments below!