Bookmarked: ‘The Anthropocene Reviewed’ is Heroically Human

Writer Hailey Gates reminisces on the early-2010s charm of John Green and the more recent majesty of his 2021 nonfiction work, “The Anthropocene Reviewed.”

From his Crash Course world history YouTube videos to “The Fault in Our Stars,” I credit John Green as the first person who challenged me to think. 

As a 13-year-old, his words motivated me to engage with the world. I would lose myself in the fiction of his characters and the reality of his themes. 

His books were the mechanism by which I measured all other novels. If the characters weren’t as captivating and nuanced as Hazel from “The Fault in Our Stars” or Alaska from “Looking For Alaska,” I was uninterested. 

When he released his first work of nonfiction “The Anthropocene Reviewed” in May 2021, I was skeptical at best. Now, it’s my favorite book by Green. 

“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is an amalgamation of personal essays and philosophical ponderings. It’s organized by chapters dedicated to different aspects of the Anthropocene. Although the items Green reviews may seem random and banal, they are all related to his understanding of the Anthropocene, a word Green defines in the book’s introduction. 

“The anthropocene is a proposed term for the current geologic age, in which humans have profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity,” Green wrote. “Nothing is more human than aggrandizing humans, but we are a hugely powerful force on Earth in the twenty-first century.” 

Having previously worked as a reviewer in his data entry job with Booklist Magazine, Green interweaves personal experience with even-handed critique.

A central aspect of “The Anthropocene Reviewed” is reader investment, as Green’s ratings — measured on the quintessential five-star scale — are contingent upon the different ways in which his chosen topic reflects the intricacies of life in a human-centered world.  

“There are no observers; only participants,” Green wrote. 

Herein lies the beauty of “The Anthropocene Reviewed” — every reader is an essential aspect of Green’s ponderings. Even reviews centered around Green’s poignant anecdotes and sprinkles of personal detail feel universal, serving as a surrogate experience for the reader because of the content’s commitment to humanity. 

Touching on everything from “Our Capacity for Wonder” to “Googling Strangers” and “The World’s Largest Ball of Paint,” Green leaves no corner of the Anthropocene unturned. He prompts readers to look critically at the world around them and to appreciate the beauty of human creations while acknowledging humanity’s inescapable effect on the world. 

That being said, this is not a book I devoured in a single night. Its morbidly self-aware themes combined with the mundane nature of Green’s topics made it difficult for me to become consumed by the words. 

But this gravity also forced me to take time with the book and to really digest exactly what Green was getting at. I would often jump between chapters, returning to certain lines that stuck out to me as I meticulously made my way through the work.

Naturally, Green has a line in “The Anthropocene Reviewed” that reflects my experience with the book itself. 

“It has taken me all my life up until now to fall in love with the world,” Green wrote. 

It hasn’t taken all my life, but I’ve fallen in love with this book in a similar way. I feel the love deepen every time I pick it up, reigniting a newfound sense of appreciation for the world around me with each re-read. To paraphrase from “The Fault In Our Stars,” I loved this book slowly, then all at once. 

My favorite chapter, a review on sunsets, contains what I’ve found to be the most powerful line in an altogether powerful book. 

“There is something deep within me, something intensely fragile, that is terrified of turning itself to the world,” Green writes. 

This quote has haunted me since I first read it — mainly because I feel it to be true. I’m now forced to confront the fear of looking at the world and letting it in since Green has given me the words to describe such a complex and vulnerable feeling. 

Especially as a college student, it feels difficult to turn towards an unknown future. This quote characterizes that fear, exposing my internal recognition of the future’s fragility and forcing me to confront it. 

The insistence of Green’s ideas in “The Anthropocene Reviewed” and how I frequently see them manifest in the world solidifies the work’s brilliance. Green emphasizes the interconnectivity of everything seemingly on every page, the tortuous necessity of being open to the world, even if its mercurial beauty is daunting. Despite my anxiety over the world’s fleeting nature, I’m reminded to actively appreciate said beauty everytime I see a sunset and force myself to turn towards it, belly first.  

The book ends with this revelation on the necessary beauty of acknowledging the world and the different ways we are all connected to it. 

“What an astonishment to breathe on this breathing planet,” Green writes. “What a blessing to be Earth loving Earth.” 

“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is available for purchase online and in most bookstores. 

Featured image by Ryan Pittman / The Phoenix

Hailey Gates

Hailey Gates