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.


  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “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 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 powerful corrective history designed not to depress but to emancipate our thinking about more sustainable futures.”
  • “What histories must we write as we learn to inhabit the Anthropocene? This book offers an excellent starting place.”


  • The Common Thread of Pessimism: Razmig Keucheyan on contemporary critical theory

    Razmig Keucheyan's The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Critical Theory Today has recently appeared in its first Greek edition, published by Angelus Novus. Earlier this month, Keucheyan spoke with Tasos Tsakiroglou of Efimerida ton Syntakton about the book and contemporary critical theory — in the context of climate change, and in relation to recent European electoral contests, including the 2017 French presidential election. 

    In the panorama of the different critical theories that you analyze in your new book The Left Hemisphere, and despite their diversity, do you discern a common thread that unites them? and what is it?

    Pessimism certainly is a common thread. None of these thinkers believes that overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with another, relatively better, system is an obvious possibility. Some of them believe it is not possible, and think “resistance” to power and “micropolitics” is our only option. This pessimism is a consequence of the tragic experiences of the 20th century, especially Stalinism.

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  • Climate Crisis Reading List

    With Donald Trump's nomination of climate change denialist Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, it's expected that any environmental gains made under Obama will be threatened and activists will be called on to more vigorously fight against the capitalists destroying our planet.

    It is becoming increasingly evident that global warming is fundamentally linked to the regime of capital accumulation - a fact that no major government is willing to confront. How then should we think through such looming climate catastrophe? Here we present a reading list which aims to tackle one of the greatest issues facing us today. 

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  • Trump Eats the Planet

    September 2016 demonstration against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Sandusky, IA. via Flickr

    Donald Trump is a fitting emblem of the Capitalocene, the age when capitalism’s relentless drive to expand has generated massive carbon emissions, pushing planetary ecosystems into states of unpredictable turbulence, precipitating a mass extinction crisis of unprecedented ferocity.

    A man with an apparently boundless appetite for self-aggrandizement, Trump has promised to pursue policies of such environmental destructiveness that their impacts are likely to be measured in the geologic record, in degrees of temperature increase and feet of sea level rise around the world. Of course carbon emissions are collective and historical, so it would be wrong to suggest that Trump is solely responsible for planetary ecocide, but his election comes at a critical time for the struggle to avert cataclysmic anthropogenic climate change. In pledging to unleash unfettered fossil capitalism, Trump epitomizes and promises to grievously aggravate the catastrophic contradictions of the Capitolocene. In the wake of Trump’s election, some mainstream environmentalists may take solace in the idea of an unstoppable market-led transition to clean energy and green growth. These hopes are not simply misplaced but dangerously demobilizing. Trump is a devourer of worlds. He and the rampant fossil capitalism he embodies can only be stopped through clear-eyed, concerted, and radical political action.

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