If we all stop for a second and look around at our surroundings we probably won’t see anything that would strike us as having a dramatic effect on our planet. Right now, I look around and see my computer, stacks of literature, an iPad, multiple empty cups that need to go to the dishwasher and some pillows. None of that seems overly unusual, right? To Diane Ackerman, these human inventions have made an indelible mark on our natural world. The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us is a collection of intertwined narratives that uncover the ways in which humans have altered the planet.
Ackerman begins with small, recurring anecdote about orangutans that are allowed to play games on iPads. Her perspective of such an unnatural occurrence serves as a thematic reminder of the impact humans have had on the natural world, as she discusses ways we’ve changed the natural world, how we are trying to decrease that impact, and what could happen if we don’t succeed.
The book is organized into sections and then divided into individual accounts of both our positive and negative influence on the Earth. Ackerman covers everything from the role of the Industrial Revolution, which marked a turning point in the Age of Humans, to accounts of how humans have introduced foreign, invasive species of plants and animals into the ecosystem. Each chapter of the book creates an informative narrative about the myriad of ways that humans have improved or harmed the natural world.
While the overall information is intensely enlightening, the overall message of the book becomes repetitive—we create and destroy. Each situation presented is a lesson, and Ackerman clearly wants to make her point clear. To some readers, this may begin to feel like a sermon. By hammering her message home with each explanation, Ackerman ends up displaying her passion for the world. She also allows the reader to ponder each situation and consider the opportunities for balance between growth and nature.
According to Ackerman, humans are the second most influential species in the history of our planet (the first being the algae that helped make our planet hospitable billions of years ago). While it is clear from Ackerman’s research that we will never stop creating or destroying, she also proves that there are ways to minimize the effects of our insatiable desire to expand. In that, we can all find hope for the future.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.