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Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,292 ratings  ·  206 reviews
"Roy Scranton lucidly articulates the depth of the climate crisis with an honesty that is all too rare, then calls for a reimagined humanism that will help us meet our stormy future with as much decency as we can muster. While I don't share his conclusions about the potential for social movements to drive ambitious mitigation, this is a wise and important challenge from an ...more
Paperback, 142 pages
Published September 23rd 2015 by City Lights Publishers (first published August 31st 2015)
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Dave Schaafsma
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Quick, pick your most hopeless-sounding title, Uninhabitable Earth, The End of the World, or Learning to Die in the Anthropocene? Well, the latter is one of a handful of recent books that makes a case for what the humanities can do to help us cope with climate (or any other) disaster. The author served in Iraq and knew he would likely die there, so he accepted it, and it changed how he lived and lives. He turned to the humanities—philosophy, history, and literature, the arts—to help him think th ...more
Ethan Everhart
Dec 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent read, though I should say it spends much more time on the fact of the dying as opposed to learning how to die. Scranton offers a truly withering assault of statistics and scientific opinions that insist our civilization is dying, and I certainly no longer have any illusions about human civilization surviving the next century. It's not especially cynical; it's matter-of-fact: as a society, we've killed ourselves. Not just corporations, not just governments, but individuals as well. This ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Basically, we're fucked. So go read a book. ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gen-nonfiction
the crisis of global climate change, the crisis of capitalism, and the crisis of the humanities in the university today are all aspects of the same crisis, which is the suicidal burnout of our carbon-fueled global capitalist civilization. the odds of that civilization surviving are negligible. the odds of our species surviving are slim. the trouble we find ourselves in will likely prove too intractable for us to manage well, if we can manage it at all.
expanded from a 2013 new york times essa
Joshua Buhs
A missed opportunity.

I like that publishing companies take risks on unusual book formats. This is an essay, and a pretty short one at that--it could have been a really long article at some magazine, probably. Officially, it's a little over 140 pages, but the book small and the type is large and there is some fat that could have been cut. Hats off to City Lights--of course--for doing the unusual. I'd like to see more books in this format.

Roy Scranton is a good writer, on the level of the sentence
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
If being human is to mean anything at all in the Anthropocene, if we are going to refuse to let ourselves sink into the futility of life without memory, then we must not lose our few thousand years of hard-won knowledge, accumulated at great cost and against great odds. We must not abandon the memory of the dead.
As we struggle, awash in social vibrations of fear and aggression, to face the catastrophic self-destruction of global civilization, the only way to keep alive our long tradition
Frederick Gault
The short version, re: Global Warming, "We're fucked". Deal with it says the author, it's already too late. Nothing will be done because the way the world works is based on growth. The only way out is "to embrace death". I see this as embracing the death of our way of life. Like the Way of the warrior once you realize you are mortal and are at one with it, then you can be at peace.

This is a very interesting thesis, and well thought out and well presented. Worth reading. I do have some issues ho
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"I found my way forward through an old book: Yamamoto Tsunemoto's 18th-century Samurai manual, the Hagakure, which advised: 'Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. [...] To survive as a soldier, I had to learn to accept the inevitability of my own death. For humanity to survive in the Anthropocene, we need to learn to live with and through the end of our current civilization." ...more
Apr 14, 2016 added it
Shelves: 2016
I have a coworker who visits me sometimes when neither of us are feeling especially motivated. Lately, we trade gloomy observations about whatever primary election was held the night before, sometimes it's more general than that. Without fail she picks up whatever book I've brought to read at lunch, flips through the pages eyeing my stickies covered in scrawl. Finally she asked the question: "Don't you ever get depressed?"

Yes, yes I do. I confess. But I try to remember what Cormac McCarthy said:
Russell Bittner
Oct 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Dale Jamieson, environmental philosopher and the author of Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed—and What It Means for Our Future, writes that “Roy Scranton has written a howl for the Anthropocene—a book full of passion, fire, science and wisdom. It cuts deeper than anything that has yet been written on the subject.” This is high praise coming from a man who’d know—and who wouldn’t dish out that kind of praise lightly.

Scranton sets the stage for global catastrop
Edward Rathke
May 17, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: literary
There are elements of this that are very good. Like the absolute certainty of the anthropocene based on mountains of evidence, the understanding that humanity is not perfectable, and a few other bits in this direction. But most of the book is bad or lazy anthropology, myopic or reductionist politics (that seem to misunderstand very important aspects of civil movements and where political power comes from), and then just a bit of philosophical naivete.

I think this book would have been much better
Alex Linschoten
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"We're fucked."
"So prepare to die."

These are more or less the main points to come out of Roy Scranton's book, adapted from a shorter article in the New York Times.

It is a quick read, and he argues that philosophers are a key element to responding to this crisis -- the crisis of humanity's extinction, no less -- by not transmitting pain, fear and anxiety onwards (I'm explaining this badly) and by analysing and thinking about everything.

In any case, I enjoyed the book, though I suspect he is preac
Douglas Penick
Sep 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This small and concise book presents the ecological likelihood of our human fate, the blinkered and predatory ways we are dealing with it, the inescapable human reliance of violence in the case of threat, and the lack of any real control in ensuring our continuity . Roy Scranton, a former soldier, has written a deeply thoughtful essay. It is a call to accepting our mortality while working to continue what has been deepest and most enduring in our culture. One may or may not agree with any of the ...more
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
A grim (yet oddly uplifting) look at our almost certain extinction in the face of global climate change. I wish the book was a little longer, but it--like our existence, perhaps--had to meet its end too soon.
Jose Moa
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a rather original book abot global warming,more on the philosofical side.
The book makes a reflection on the inevitability of the extinction of our civilization as we know it ,caused by the strong global warming due to the combustible foosil adiction of the world, a unsurmontable adiction impossible of avoid.
Claims to think about our role as humans in the universe,learn to die as a civilization in the better way in the antropocene,preserve if is possible in some way our creations and know
Jon Norimann
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was a bit surprised when I saw this book at the library. It was so small and thin. Despite its size, it took me a bit over an hour to read it all, the book is excellent.

The title is a bit misleading. Less fatalist than the title the essence of the book is global warming and how serious a threat it is to humanity. Although many of the arguments made are standard Scranton manages to bring new angles and ideas to the global warming issue.

As the book is so short I leave it to everyone to read it
Trevor Owens
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A powerful and urgent argument for how to approach the reality that at this point we need to accept and begin to plan for how to deal with major change that is going to result from the results of anthropogenic climate change. Much of the book is a case for the inevitability for and extent of change that will come from raising sea levels and temperature change. The book also includes exploration and discussion on what it means to come to terms with that fact and prepare for and plan for a transit ...more
Jul 13, 2019 rated it liked it
More a book of philosophy than a book about global warming, but on the plus side it is short and has some interesting cultural references. Great title and all, but not what I was looking for. Scranton does make a couple of pithy points, like when he says, "It is not true that violence never solved anything. Violence ended the rule of Nazi Germany in Europe, and it ended slavery in America." Another example he cites is when black WW2 veterans used marksmanship skills acquired in the Army to fire ...more
Randall Wallace
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was ok
As long as “economic power remains the key index of global status”, no country is going to trade economic growth for lower carbon emissions. If you can’t stop other countries from trafficking, genocide and torture with agreements in place, how can you hope to regulate carbon? The internet uses about 10% of the world’s electricity (basically coal) with everyone’s incessant streaming video, music, and checking one’s emails and selfie’s.

This meager paragraph was EVERYTHING I learned from this book
Aung Sett Kyaw Min
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
I get the impression that the latter half of the book--the author’s spirited defence of the humanities and its relevance in the time of the anthropocene--is too detached from the scientific reporting that came before it that the two halves lead independent discursive lives rather than constituting an organic whole. The first half clarifies the stakes at hand. For all our impressive scientific understanding of the phenomenon of climate change and the motors driving it, we are utterly powerless po ...more
Roger Whitson
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to review. Scranton has a powerful poetic voice. I particularly love his description of human beings as "machines of machines, all and each seeking homeostatic perpetuation, and our lives and deaths pass through this great cycle like mosquitos rising and falling in a puddle drying in the summer sun." I can sense the Deleuzian traces of becoming and anti-oedipal machines-being woven into his prose.

Still, for a book that begins with a quote by Spinoza "a free man thinks o
EXO Books
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is different and special because of its tone most of all. Anyone who has struggled with an "awakening," the realization that this world is nowhere close to what you are told it is (from birth, and daily), knows that this is a great ordeal. Wrapping your head around the problems that Scranton adroitly tackles is generally a very depressing thing--it's almost like going through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of dying, replete with denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before finally ...more
Sasha Stone
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In researching something I'm writing I had to try to look into the future 100 years. I've read almost every book I can find on human evolution, the environment and what might happen to us on down the road. The truth is that our future does not look very promising when you add everything up: population headed towards 11 billion, unstoppable climate change, antibiotic resistance. It seems to be creating a perfect storm. But reading Roy Scranton's book - which is very short and concise, it delivere ...more
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Listening to A World Lit Only By Fire and reading this was a vertiginous experience indeed. The scrofulous infection of humanity this planet has is the briefest of things, and the fact that we managed, even for a minute, to claw our way out of the dark ages is an amazement. The fact that we poisoned our own well, and fouled the nest beyond redemption is not surprising. The fact that the lights came on at all is. Learn to die without preemptively mourning this species, Scranton seems to say, but ...more
Jun 06, 2016 rated it liked it
Bit pricey for the size, and reinvigorating humanism as a solution for anthropocentric delusion, really? Really?

But that being said, some very evocative prose and a worthy introduction to those new to the concept of 'the anthropocene'.
Canadian Reader
Disappointing. Writing is academic and opaque towards the end. I was uncertain what Scranton's case really was for studying the humanities or how the humanities supposedly helped us weather the death throes of our industrial capitalist society. ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Scranton’s is a philosophical little book. He looks at science, looks at what we know from the last time the earth was hot, considers renewable energy, geo-engineering, politics, economics, and our shrinking resources. If you think technology will save us, you are wrong. The tech we need to implement we need right now and it does not exist. If you think we can replace everything we use fossil fuels for with renewables and carry on just like we are now, you are wrong. What we need to learn how to ...more
Annsofie Jonsson
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
An Important read.
Nov 11, 2020 added it
On the level of form, this book was quality. I love Scranton's use of essay, nonfiction, scientific data, literary criticism, and personal experience to clearly communicate sentiment. Creative nonfiction at its intellectual best.

Because I respect it literarily, I am comfortable stating that I disagree with his notion that one must constantly be aware of death in order to survive climate change. This, to me, seems psychologically irresponsible and not useful.

Update 6 December 2020:
I am rethinki
Bryan Alexander
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene is a passionate and literary reflection on climate change. It is a humanist's book, a call for applying the humanities to the world's largest challenge, and ultimately to committing us all to humanistic work.

The title signals one of this short book's main points: a call to recognize "that this civilization is already dead." (23) Carbon burning has already started Earth down the road to transform life, and we must start from this point. Recognizing that, we mus
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Roy Scranton is the author of I ♥ Oklahoma! (Soho Press, 2019), Total Mobilization: World War II and American Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2019), We’re Doomed. Now What? (Soho Press, 2018), War Porn (Soho Press, 2016), and Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization (City Lights, 2015). He has written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Nation, ...more

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72 likes · 20 comments
“Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.” 9 likes
“Carbon-fueled capitalism is a zombie system, voracious but sterile.” 7 likes
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