The Anthropocene Reviewed began its life as a podcast. Perhaps I should just share the podcast's description, because I really can't explain it better in my own words:
The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. On The Anthropocene Reviewed, #1 New York Times bestselling author John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Turtles All the Way Down) reviews different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.
I'm not sure where along the way I started listening to the podcast, but while I liked it a lot, I also found myself putting off listening to the episodes because usually, when I listen to podcasts, it's because I'm doing something else and I just want some audio to fill the space while I'm doing what I'm doing. I knew after a couple of episodes that TAR is NOT a space-filler type of podcast; it deserves attention, and consideration, and reflection. Thus, I have not faithfully listened to every episode, but when I HAVE had the opportunity and attention span to listen, I have been blown away by the beauty and the thoughtfulness that Green puts into his work.
When I found out that he was compiling a bunch of his TAR work into a book, I was thrilled! Now they would be in a form that I could really take my time with and experience all at once (like, just really IMMERSE MYSELF), instead of getting a new episode every week or two. I preordered the book, and I also purchased the audiobook.
(I know, I know--why buy the audiobook and not just listen to the podcast for free? It's different, I PROMISE. Not just that Green's recording of it is different, but that my experience as a listener was different.)
I should've known that I wouldn't make it out of the introduction without crying. (I mean, it IS John Green after all--I have a t-shirt printed with the cover of The Fault in Our Stars, but instead of the title of the book, it says "This book made me cry.") I have been saying, nearly constantly, that while Green is a really good fiction writer, it's his non-fiction that really gets me. He really shines here.
Yes, this is a book in which he reviews *gestures vaguely* human things, but it's also partly memoir. No matter how much of a fan you already are of John Green (even if you're NOT already a fan of John Green), you will learn things that you didn't know about him or his life, particularly his mental health struggles (even his physical health struggles), his upbringing, his influences, etc. There's so much of him in this book, that it's hard not to review the book without reviewing him as a person, but I am honestly impressed. I know that we shouldn't make heroes out of celebrities, and John Green himself would probably prefer not to be hero-worshipped, but I can't help feeling more than ever, after finishing this book, that he's one of The Good Ones.
John Green knows so much about SO MUCH. I mean, yes, I already knew he was a well-read, well-rounded, well-educated person, but the depths of knowledge he displays in this book are impressive and aspirational. The word "polymath" is now in my vocabulary, and I now want to BE one, though I know I just don't have the brain capacity for it. If you check the notes section for this book, Green lists all the different articles, books, and studies he's read regarding each thing, and I am simply envious of his ability to absorb all that knowledge and then synthesize it into this beautifully written book. (I have been inspired to look up everything that he talks about though---I went on YouTube to find video of Jerzy Dudek's goal saves, and I looked up the Werner Herzog documentary about the Lascaux cave paintings--I plan to watch it when I have more time.)
Anyway... the book. I primarily experienced it as an audiobook, though I did crack into the e-book to highlight quotes and passages that stood out to me (of which there were many!). One major difference between listening to the audiobook and listening to the podcast was that, when you get all the essays all together, there forms a larger lens through which we are viewing everything he discusses in the book, and that lens, of course, is the current pandemic that we are all in. Some of these essays are from pre-pandemic times, but the book itself was finished and compiled within the last year-ish, and of course, it's hard not to talk about humans without addressing the big thing that has affected humans worldwide this year. It's hard not to talk about how humans have affected the planet, and the life on this planet, especially other humans, without talking about the pandemic, and some of the essays specifically have major resonance with current events (like the one about the smallpox vaccine).
But, lest you think this book is going to be a downer, it actually has an overwhelming message of hope. Yes, humans are capable of some pretty awful things, but we are also capable of so much that is awe-inspiring and wonderful. We have the ability and the consciousness not only to effect major changes, but we can also appreciate something as simple as a beautiful leaf or a sunset. We can come together to celebrate our favorite sports team's victory. We can create amazing art. We can eat a whole lot of hot dogs. We can save millions of lives from smallpox.
If this review seems circuitous and winding, it's because I am so overwhelmed by this book that I don't even know how to focus my thoughts about it. I loved this book. This book has changed me. I have read so many books that were enjoyable but then immediately forgotten, and this is not one of those books. I think reading it has really affirmed the type of human that I want to be, which is not to say that I want to be like John Green, but that I want to be a human who leaves the world better than how I found it, in whatever way I can manage to do so. (And I do like that the book gives examples of ways to shape the world that that are both small and large.) This book has really impressed upon me the power of humans, or at least, the potential for power of humans, and while I can't change what other humans decide to do, I can control what I do, and hope that I find other humans who feel the same way. Humans have power, and we need to decide whether to use that power for good or for harm.
Lastly, I'm not even much of a non-fiction reader, but this book has wormed its way into my Favorites. It is THAT good. It affected me THAT much.
I give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.