Book Review - The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet

In the introduction to John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed, the author talks about his time in the early 2000s as a book reviewer at Booklist. Reviews there do not include ratings. Yet, he notes, by the time he left Booklist in 2005 the five-star rating scale had become ubiquitous. "Everyone", he says, "had become a reviewer, and everything had become a subject of reviews."

At this point in my reading I had a tight smile on my face and was a bit apprehensive. It IS true that reviewing has become commonplace, and book reviewing is a hobby that many like me pursue for the love of books and of writing. Was Green about to exact an author's revenge on reviewers?

I needn't have worried. No, Green isn't here to critique book reviewers. He is offering us a whole set of his own reviews in this book. Topics range from Nathan's Famous hot dogs to Piggly Wiggly grocery stores; from CNN to Canada Geese; from Kentucky Bluegrass to the QWERTY keyboard. Each gets their own review, ending with a one to five star rating.

As each essay unfolds we learn a bit about why its particular topic is important enough to Green - what role it's played in his life - that he has written a review about it. Each essay is thus a little peek into Green's life. And the essays build on each other to collectively form something like an autobiography. 

Can you imagine an author pitching an "autobiography by review" as a concept for his next book? It must have helped that he is THAT John Green - author of The Fault in Our Stars. It likely also helped that many of the essays first started life on his podcast with public radio station WNYC, or on the vlogbrothers YouTube channel Green shares with his brother Hank. I have never heard the podcast nor seen the YouTube videos so this was all new to me.

Another place that some of the essays spring from is a PBS Digital series called The Art Assignment. I did not realize this until late in the book, but by then it made perfect sense. The essays share a style of storytelling often heard on public broadcasting. Stories there often build an emotional arc in a similar way. PBS and NPR stories often start off with a personal touch and a hint of light humor. This carries you along and opens you up to receive the author's "aha" statement in a crescendo of emotional impact to end the story. Think about the best stories you've heard on The Moth Radio Hour. The essays here work in much the same way.

Which is not at all an indictment of the style, but an endorsement. It's an effective storytelling technique and Green has perfected it in these essays. 

After finishing the book I re-read the blurbs on the back cover. The words there promise insights into the state of humanity in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the current geological era where the impact of humankind is most evident.  While there are insights in this book, they spring from the personal life of the author. At least in my reading of them, these insights are autobiographical rather than grand statements on mankind.

I do agree with one sentence on the back cover - "John Green's gift for storytelling shines throughout this masterful collection."

RATING: Five Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

NOTE: This is the first physical book I've picked up from a library in quite a while. During the pandemic I got in the habit of using my library card in our tiny town in Michigan only to download ebooks and audiobooks in the Libby app. I'm lucky that our small town local library is part of a statewide collective of libraries. That opens up online access to more reading possibilities than I would have thought possible, and I've taken advantage of that.

Now we are on an extended stay visiting with relatives in Brisbane. I've discovered that since we are paying rent on an apartment here I qualify for a Brisbane Libraries card. I picked this book up on my first visit to our new local library. 

NOTE 2: While the paperback edition of this book is available here in Australia right now, it seems that it's not yet available in the US. But it will be as of March 21st, and you can pre-order it now if you are interested through the links below.

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Title: The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton (Penguin Random House)

Publish Date: Mar 21, 2023

ISBN-13: 9780525555247

Publisher’s List Price: $18.00 Paperback (as of 3/2023)