4 min read

The Anthropocene Reviewed, Reviewed

The Anthropocene Reviewed, Reviewed

I'm a big fan of the five-star scale despite its simplifications. It delivers a near aggregate evaluation of something's worth in (a more or less) coherent fashion. Rather than asking friends or family for recommendations, the five-star scale provides a data and consumer friendly ranking system. The simplicity comes at the price of nuance since reviewers using the system do not equivalently weigh food quality and service quality for restaurants, or visuals and score for films. Regardless, it does a decent job with differentiating the good from the bad. Of course, my five stars is not your five stars. And what is five stars anyways, perfection or just exceeded expectations? But I think we can all agree that anything under three stars isn't good and oftentimes, that's all I need to pick where to eat for lunch. I give the five-star scale three and a half stars.

As a frequent consumer of things I'm embarrassed to say that I rarely ever write reviews. I rely entirely on others' Yelp reviews to dictate my meals and I turn to Goodreads to scout my next potential read. My reliance on reviews remind me of the "standing on the shoulders of giants" metaphor. Adages are cool and all but I must add that it's a personal rule of mine that clichés must be used sparingly and only ironically. This is one of those times. Within the reviewing world I am a small consumer standing on the shoulders of Yelp reviewers. That is until now and after reading John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet.

The Anthropocene Reviewed is Green's first work of non-fiction and as Penguin Random House aptly describes, Green "reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale—from the QWERTY keyboard and sunsets to Canada geese and Penguins of Madagascar". Within the essays Green intricately weaves together history, both worldly and personal, and emotional insights as he addresses the complexity and contradictions of contemporary humanity. As Green shows us, we can be compassionate and cruel, tenacious and irresolute but above all, "too powerful and not nearly powerful enough".

Green explores this by not only informing readers of the history of things such as air-conditioning, Monopoly and the Indianapolis 500, he does so by connecting such disparate ideas to society and our future. Air-conditioning is a prime example of our power to shape the environment, Monopoly is a story of social and economic inequality, while the Indianapolis 500 is an appreciation of the communities we build. While reading The Anthropocene Reviewed you develop a newfound appreciation and frustration with the human species. Like any other review, you begin to see why you should or should not give the Anthropocene and its inhabitants a chance. In essay form and accompanying five-star scaled reviews you learn that we can't help but be so incredibly wonderous and entirely flawed. But that's the story of the Anthropocene. We just can't help but be human.

What I love most about this book is the moments where Green zooms inward, in memoir-like fashion, to his life within the Anthropocene. Interspersed within the essays are recollections of Green's life, from the nostalgia and trauma of childhood to the wonder and anxiety of adulthood.  Essays on whispering, scratch 'n' sniff stickers, and the notes app are more of personal memories than actual reviews, but that's what makes this book great. The Anthropocene Reviewed is more like An Anthropocene Reviewed because, as readers traverse through time and Green's life they realize that despite sharing the same Earth and history, we all experience the Anthropocene differently. In a way, the many essays feel like Green's life realizations transcribed. Like a family member or mentor, Green's writing seems to guide readers through their own experience of the Anthropocene by offering his own. In the Bonneville Salt Flats essay Green writes, "one of the strange things about adulthood is that you are your current self, but you are also all the selves you used to be, the ones you grew out of but can't ever quite get rid of". As a young adult, that's difficult for me to confirm but I can't help but be guided by his words. I am my current self, always changing, but always me.

By far, my favorite essay is on sycamore trees where Green beautifully depicts his battles with mental illness which often cloak the ubiquitous, yet overlooked, fascinations of life. In this essay he writes, "I don't want to give in to despair; I don't want to take refuge in the detached ridicule of emotion. I don't want to be cool if cool means being cold to or distant from the reality of experience". Our thoughts and emotions sit alongside the many contradictions of humanity. How we think and feel yield both euphoria and despair. The tragedy is that our thoughts often don't feel like our own. But as Green shares, although such helpless moments feel infinite, they never are. The Anthropocene Reviewed has taught me that in life we teeter between many contradictions, but we must do our best to find the beauty even when there is despair.

In the Anthropocene "there are no disinterested observers; there are only participants". By reading Green's work we participate in his experience of the Anthropocene and more importantly, become empowered to participate in our own. After reading, I find myself contemplating my experience of this geologic age and my place within it. Like many, my hope is to leave the world in a better place than when I entered it, but the details are not yet decided. At 21 years old, my experience of the Anthropocene is limited in comparison and not nearly ready for a novel sized review. But, I find that liberating. My review of the Anthropocene is still in progress and I'm in no rush to reach the end. I give The Anthropocene Reviewed four and a half stars.

There are countless golden snippets scattered throughout the book that I couldn't fit within this review. I suppose the only way to find them yourself is to read it. Impartialities aside, I think you should read this book. I did my best to capture the work's essence but unlike John Green's writing, a delicate but powerful flight, I'm still aimlessly flapping.

If I didn't convince you, here are a couple parting facts:

I read most of my books digitally to save space and for carrying convenience. But I bought a signed hardcover copy.

The few physical books I do buy, I try to keep pristine and free of dog-ears or handwriting. But, I highlighted quotes from nearly every essay.

I also rarely write book reviews. But, here we are.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this or any other post please consider subscribing. :)