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October 13, 2020 - 

My soul has been aching for moments of quiet. Not just silence, but quiet: a break in the constant barrage of noisy thoughts from within and without. Playing music offers this kind of quiet sometimes, as does reading poetry or taking a walk on a cool, sunny day.

But one of the best sources of real quiet I’ve found is John Green’s podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed. Green is best known as the author of the 2012 young adult bestseller The Fault In Our Stars, and he is also the co-creator of the YouTube channels Vlogbrothers and Crash Course. He started The Anthropocene Reviewed in 2018 in search for the same kind of quiet it gives me now: the chance “to look with calm but sustained attention at the world around me and the world within me.”

The Anthropocene Reviewed promises to “review facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” Its title comes from the name of the proposed geological age we’ve entered, in which humans have unprecedented power over the earth’s future. Each episode includes one or two reviews of something distinctively anthropocene, including Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents, the video game Tetris, and scratch ’n’ sniff stickers.

Green’s reviews mix cultural commentary with history and memoir. They take on global topics like disease and weather as well as personal ones like mental health and Green’s passion for a few specific soccer teams. Each episode displays Green’s stunning ability to turn oddball anecdotes into moving reflections on the world’s complexity.

In one review, for example, he shows how the invention of the board game Monopoly—itself a critique of capitalism—is emblematic of one of capitalism’s major flaws: one person, Charles Darrow, receives all the cultural and financial credit for a product that was largely the work of others. In another episode, Green tells the story of the last living member of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird species, its duet partners wiped out by shortsighted human activity.

Green is an Episcopalian, and he speaks fairly frequently and openly about his faith on the podcast. But don’t expect detailed, orthodox explorations of theology. Instead, Green talks about his relationship with God as a mystery that doesn’t easily fit into traditional religious language.

“People ask me all the time if I believe in God,” Green says in his review of sunsets. “I tell them that I’m a Christian, that I go to church, but they don’t care about any of that; they just want to know if I believe in God, and I can’t answer them, because I don’t know how to deal with that question. Do I believe in God? I believe around God. But all I really believe in is sunlight.”

But one thoroughly Christian belief that Green does claim is “radical hope”—“the idea that hope is always available, no matter what, to you and to everyone, that hope, as Emily Dickinson put it, ‘never stops at all.’” This radical hope is the podcast’s central theme. Despite countless human missteps, there is always hope that we will extend each other grace, create beautiful things, and band together in the face of crisis.

The podcast is currently on hiatus while Green works on a collection of essays inspired by it. New episodes are expected to return in a few months, but the existing catalogue is already a trove of empathy, quiet, and hope. (WNYC Studios)

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