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The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us

Dissecting the new theoretical buzzword of the “Anthropocene”
The Earth has entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. What we are facing is not only an environmental crisis, but a geological revolution of human origin. In two centuries, our planet has tipped into a state unknown for millions of years.

How did we get to this point? Refuting the convenient view of a “human species” that upset the Earth system, unaware of what it was doing, this book proposes the first critical history of the Anthropocene, shaking up many accepted ideas: about our supposedly recent “environmental awareness,” about previous challenges to industrialism, about the manufacture of ignorance and consumerism, about so-called energy transitions, as well as about the role of the military in environmental destruction. In a dialogue between science and history, The Shock of the Anthropocene dissects a new theoretical buzzword and explores paths for living and acting politically in this rapidly developing geological epoch.


  • “At a time when the word ‘Anthropocene’ is becoming so fashionable, this well-documented and well-argued book will help readers sort out the various meanings of this most unstable label … The authors show the bewildering varieties of historical actors at work in what is called the ‘environmental crisis’”
  • “A very important book. In this historically rich and meticulously detailed work, Bonneuil and Fressoz show us how to keep our head without losing our heart to technocracy.”
  • “Cleverly argued and extremely compelling, this book offers a remarkably timely analysis and critique of the very notion of the Anthropocene. It’s widely held that modern industrial societies innocently and ignorantly generated the forces that have wrought such dramatic ecological effects on their world. It’s also believed that only very recently, because of the heroic work of a few visionaries, has this ignorance been overcome and the truth of the Anthropocene at last revealed. Using an astonishing range of sources from climate sciences and economics, history and technology, Bonneuil and Fressoz brilliantly show the utter falsity of this story, and why it matters so much.”
  • “This revelatory, lucid and daring book rejects the delusions of control implicit in conventional environmentalism, and outlines the enormity of the changes necessary for us to continue to live in the Anthropocene.”
  • “A timely book which firmly grounds history in the stuff that the sciences now tell us about what commodified life does to the planet. This is an essential volume for the project of historical thought and action.”
  • “A wide-ranging essay that combines elements of environmental history, history of science and technology, and economic and intellectual history, while covering an extensive geographic base including British, American, French, and German cases.”
  • “This book attacks such widespread ideas as ‘sustainable development,’ ‘green growth,’ or, still worse, ‘geo-engineering’—the new manifestation of the blind faith in a technological process supposedly now capable of reducing global warming by various clever tricks.”
  • “These two historians have undertaken to explain the entry into this new epoch and reveal its major determinants.”
  • “Challenges the certainties of our modernity, our mode of development and our view of the world.”
  • “This bold, brilliantly argued history of the Anthropocene epoch is a corrective to cosy thinking about humanity's grave disruptions to Earth systems...[Bonneuil and Fressoz] call for a “new environmental humanities”, and a shift away from market-based approaches that feed the beast.”
  • “In questioning the idea of an apolitical Anthropocene and raising the spectre of a new self-selecting scientific geocracy, their book should begin a vital discussion. We do need a new politics of the Anthropocene.”
  • “This is the first book to seriously come to terms—philosophically and psychologically as well as scientifically—with the overwhelming planetary transformation implied by the word 'Anthropocene.' Bonneuil and Fressoz have done humanity a great service by thinking through the startling issues raised by the fact that our species has launched the entire ecosphere onto a new and frightening trajectory.”
  • The Shock of the Anthropocene details how nature has forced itself on all aspects of science and society and unpicks our current interpretation of an environmental 'crisis'. This is not climate change doomsday book. It's about the long-term legacy of the planet we are altering”
  • “The Shock of the Anthropocene is a detailed, data-driven, and well-argued critique of conventional thought on enormity of the challenges and changes that lay ahead for humanity on an Earth that is irreparably damaged by our actions. It should be a central addition to readers’ climate change libraries.”
  • “The book is very well written and highly readable...I recommend the book highly. It is currently the most lucid and comprehensive introduction to 'Anthropocene discourse'”


  • A Natural History of Destruction: The Environmental Consequences of War

    "War, by creating a state of exception, has justified and encouraged a ‘brutalizing’ of relations between society and environment." 

    The excerpt below, from Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz's The Shock of the Anthropocene, looks at the environmental consequences of war.

    Read our Welcome to the Anthropocene (climate change) reading list here.

    In 1945, after visiting the ruins of Cologne, Solly Zuckerman, a zoologist and one of the founding fathers of British operational research, had the idea of writing an article on the environmental consequences of strategic bombing. In his memoirs, he explains that he abandoned this because the absolute desolation that he had witnessed ‘cried out for a more eloquent piece than I could ever have written’. Zuckerman had proposed to his publisher an intriguing title: The Natural History of Destruction.

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  • Welcome to the Anthropocene: A Reading List

    "We already live in the Anthropocene, so let us get used to this ugly word and the reality that it names. It is our epoch and our condition. This geological epoch is the product of the last few hundred years of our history. The Anthropocene is the sign of our power, but also of our impotence. It is an Earth whose atmosphere has been damaged by the 1,500 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide we have spilled by burning coal and other fossil fuels. It is the impoverishment and artificializing of Earth’s living tissue, permeated by a host of new synthetic chemical molecules that will even affect our descendants. It is a warmer world with a higher risk of catastrophes, a reduced ice cover, higher sea-levels and a climate out of control." - Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste FressozThe Shock of the Anthropocene

    2015 was the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists have confirmed that the staggering growth of global emissions this past century has caused a definitive turning point in global climate history.

    Some put forth that this climate predicament represents a new geological epoch of human origin, thus dubbing it as the “Anthropocene”. There is no doubt as to whether climate change is occurring. However, identifying the origins of this crisis presents great implications on deciding what to do next.

    Take back the planet and understand what's really going on in these new and recently published (plus soon to come) books on the history and politics of the global climate crisis.

    All of the books on our Anthropocene Reading List are 20% to 30% off (plus free shipping and bundled ebooks where available!)

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  • Searching for the Origins of the Fossil Economy

    As part of our series looking critically at climate change and the ongoing COP21 talks in Paris we have an exclusive extract from Andreas Malm's Fossil Capital. In it, Malm outlines his distinctive approach to the contemporary fossil economy by looking back to its contingent origins during the Industrial Revolution. It is only through this, Malm argues, that we can truly understand the crisis we are in today.

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