A penetrating, page-turning tour of a post-human Earth
In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us.In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.
The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and how, as the world's cities crumble, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dali Lama, and paleontologists---who describe a prehuman world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths---Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.
From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn't depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.
If a virulent virus or even the Rapture depopulated Earth overnight, how long before all trace of humankind vanished? That's the provocative, and occasionally puckish, question posed by Weisman (An Echo in My Blood) in this imaginative hybrid of solid science reporting and morbid speculation. Days after our disappearance, pumps keeping Manhattan's subways dry would fail, tunnels would flood, soil under streets would sluice away and the foundations of towering skyscrapers built to last for centuries would start to crumble. At the other end of the chronological spectrum, anything made of bronze might survive in recognizable form for millions of years along with one billion pounds of degraded but almost indestructible plastics manufactured since the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, land freed from mankind's environmentally poisonous footprint would quickly reconstitute itself, as in Chernobyl, where animal life has returned after 1986's deadly radiation leak, and in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, a refuge since 1953 for the almost-extinct goral mountain goat and Amur leopard. From a patch of primeval forest in Poland to monumental underground villages in Turkey, Weisman's enthralling tour of the world of tomorrow explores what little will remain of ancient times while anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Good Content, Burdened Writing
I found the content of the book to be interesting enough to keep me reading to the end. The author does a good job of explaining how humans have impacted the world and how things would change if we weren't around. His speculations are based, as much as possible, on data about what we currently have to do to keep our world functioning and what has happened in places where humans have been excluded such as in the Korean DMZ and on Cyprus.
The overall impression I got from the book was that humans are impressive in their ability to alter the world but that there is little to nothing we have done that will survive us for more than a few thousand years. The Natural world will consume it all. The book conveyed simultaneously a sense of grandeur and smallness of the human species, and i enjoyed that.
There is a subtle conservation undertone to the book, but it is not nearly as loud as I thought it would be. The author certainly does not convey that the world would be better without us. He simply describes what things are like now, how things were before us, and how things might be after us.
For the most part, I did not enjoy the author's writing style. It seemed too burdened with ornate descriptions when more direct sentences and paragraphs would have worked better.
Each chapter is largely independent of the others. Although there is an overall theme for the book, the chapters do not tie together in a very elegant way. Occasionally knowledge gained in one chapter will be used to make a point in a later chapter, but those threads are thin. About half way through, I got tired of that lack of connection.
This book is a must read for everyone. Period.