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Book Review: The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

It was the meta nature of writing this review that first sparked my inspiration. A book review on a book that is a collection of reviews is right up my alley of strange tastes and has never failed to make me chuckle. The Anthropocene Reviewed (Penguin Random House LCC 2021) by John Green is a collection of reviews on everyday life. The book also piqued my interest because I am a longtime fan of the author. I have been consuming his and his brother Hank’s content since high school, through their educational YouTube channel “Crash Course.” The Green brothers were also early adapters to YouTube and online content creation, in general, with their long-running YouTube channel the “Vlog Brothers,” and they were one of the founders of the content creators’ convention Vidcon. In recent years, Hank has become a staple on the app Tik Tok, and in the last few months (starting with the promotion of this very book) John has also become active on the app. I do have a positive bias towards the author. After years of consuming John Green’s content, I feel as if I know the man. Green has no idea I exist, but this para-social relationship has played its part in aiding my enjoyment of this book. The Anthropocene Reviewed is not one coherent book in the traditional sense of non-fiction, with each chapter building on the last, collectively working towards a common goal; it is a series of connected essays, each relying on the philosophies, knowledge, and messages of the last to impact the reader. It is a collection of essays on seemingly trivial things such as diet coke, “The Penguins of Madagascar,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Each review is structured like a short essay and stands independently from the others, with each ending in a five-star rating. The reviews do not function as traditional reviews, which, generally, the purpose of is to recommend a product or a service to someone. What is the Anthropocene, you may ask? When first hearing it, I was left scratching the top of my head with an audible “huh?” John Green says, “[the Anthropocene] is a proposed term for the current geologic age in which humans have profoundly reshaped the planet and its biodiversity” (Green 5). In other words, the Anthropocene is the society we find ourselves in today. The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of essays on what Green observes makes us human in our society today, which he uses as a jumping point of exploration and to let a romantic viewpoint of the little things inspire us to live life to the fullest.


Only John Green would start a review about scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers, then mention the human correlation of memories to smell, then talk about being bullied as a child, and then loop back try to explain how scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers work while continuing to contemplate the momentary fleetingness of smells in the scope of human history, to finally remind us that he enjoys scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers in the first place, not because it reminds him of the specific smell the sticker represents, but instead to remind him of his childhood. (I am well aware that this very possibly could be a run-on sentence). These continual musings that constantly roll into the next segment are exactly how Green's works come across. He expertly and seemingly flawlessly drags you from one sentence to another, making it difficult to put the book down. Green’s writing is extremely charming. I was constantly entertained and found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. During his review of Dr Pepper, for example, Green comments that there is no period after the “Dr” in Dr Pepper because “the bubble lettering at the time [the 1950s] made ‘Dr. Pepper’ look to many readers like ‘Dri Pepper,’ which sounds like maybe the worst soda imaginable” (Green).


As is also true for his other essays, John Green uses copious footnotes. The way in which he uses them is something that I have never seen before. He does use the footnotes for the occasional extra information, but he also uses them as a means for tangents and various witty comments.


Each review is extremely “educational” 3 in nature. For example, did you know that “there are 163,000 square kilometers of lawn in the U.S., greater than the size of Ohio, or the entire nation of Italy. Almost one-third of all residential water use in the U.S. – clean drinkable water – is dedicated to lawns” (Green 166). Suddenly, I am more informed about how much of the average American lawn wastes natural resources and harms the environment. Green’s immense knowledge of the world around us aids his observations on the Anthropocene and shows us that being well informed is essential to romanticizing this strange world we live in. This book inspires me to go out and learn more of the world we find ourselves in.

Green's musings have never ceased to make me cry. His book feels like therapy in many ways. I find myself bawling to the words “we’re here because we’re here,” sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” late on a Wednesday night, as I work on this book report's second draft. This version of the song was used as a war song by soldiers in World War I, but a good friend of Green’s, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, recontextualized the song for Green. She says:


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 we are here, that a series of astonishing unlikelihood has made us possible and her possible. We might never know why we are here, but we can still proclaim in hope that we are here. I don’t think such hope is foolish or idealistic or misguided. We live in hope—that life will get better, and more importantly that it will go on, that love will survive even though we will not. And between now and then, we are here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here (Green 152).


Through a review of a Scottish folk song, I not only learn about World War I but was also given immense reason to hope in our bleak reality.


John Green's writing is raw, and he’s not afraid to bear us his soul and inspire us to love the beauty around us. He pushes back on the common trend of the hard-pressed adult viewing loving life as naïve. He says, “It can sometimes feel like loving the beauty that surrounds us is somehow disrespectful to the many horrors that also surround us. But mostly, I think I’m just scared that if I show the world my belly, it will devour me. And so I wear the armor of cynicism, and hide behind the great walls of irony, and only glimpse beauty with my back turned to it” (Green 98). But finally, in his review of a sunset, Green gives up. In his final remarks, he simply states, “It is a sunset, and it is beautiful, and this whole thing you’ve been doing where nothing gets five stars because nothing is perfect? That’s bullshit.[4] So much is perfect. Starting with this. I give sunsets five stars” (Green 99). He originally set out to make a point that nothing in this world was perfect. The beauty of a simple thing proved him wrong. John Green looks at things as they are but is still unafraid to enjoy life. Maybe he is extremely naïve, or maybe he wants to live a happy life; regardless, Green never ceases to surprise me with his ability to look at the world objectively and yet still have a spark of hope and wonder in his words. Green's words inspire me to live life fuller. John Green’s musings - which are occasionally rambles - about life have given me hope, and it wouldn’t be extreme to say they have quite simply changed my life. So, my review of this book is not completely removed from bias. This book has had an immense impact on my life. That immense impact and the fact that it's a great book leads me to give The Anthropocene Reviewed five stars.

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