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The World Without Us [Paperback]

Alan Weisman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 14 2008

Most books about the environment build on dire threats warning of the possible extinction of humanity. Alan Weisman avoids frightening off readers by disarmingly wiping out our species in the first few pages of this remarkable book. He then continues with an astounding depiction of how Earth will fare once we’re no longer around.
    The World Without Us is a one-of-a-kind book that sweeps through time from the moment of humanity’s future extinction to millions of years into the future. Drawing on interviews with experts and on real examples of places in the world that have already been abandoned by humans—Chernobyl, the Korean DMZ and an ancient Polish forest—Weisman shows both the shocking impact we’ve had on our planet and how impermanent our footprint actually is.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Because of the scientific terminology and the interlinked data amassed bit by bit, this is not an easy read for narrator or lay listener. But it's a fascinating book, and Grupper handles it well. Grupper's careful narration brings to life Weisman's judicious organization, unambiguous grammatical structure and vivid descriptions of what would become of land, sea, fish, flora and fauna should humans disappear from the face of the earth. Weisman explains the earth's capacity for self-healing. Unchecked by human intervention, a city like New York would flood within days, its buildings and infrastructure would collapse, and soon the city would revert to its original ecosystem. But the message of the book is our legacy to the universe: Every bit of plastic manufactured over the last 80 years or so still remains somewhere in the environment. Weisman and Grupper convert abstract environmental concepts into concrete ideas. Broadly and meticulously researched, finely interwoven journalism and imaginative projection, the book is an utterly convincing call to action.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Given the burgeoning human population and the phenomenal reach of our technologies, humankind has literally become a force of nature. We are inadvertently changing the climate; altering, polluting, and eradicating ecosystems; and driving evolution as other organisms struggle to adapt to a new human-made world. So what would happen if humankind suddenly vanished? Journalist Weisman, author of Echo in My Blood (1999), traveled the world to consult with experts and visit key sites, and his findings are arresting to say the least. He learned that without constant vigilance, New York's subways would immediately flood, and Houston's complex "petroscape" would spectacularly self-destruct. Weisman visits an abandoned resort on the coast of Cyprus and marvels over nature's ready reclamation. Marine biologists share sobering information about the staggering amount of plastic particles in ocean waters as well as vast floating islands of trash. Weisman is a thoroughly engaging and clarion writer fueled by curiosity and determined to cast light rather than spread despair. His superbly well researched and skillfully crafted stop-you-in-your-tracks report stresses the underappreciated fact that humankind's actions create a ripple effect across the web of life. As for the question of what would endure in our absence, Weisman lists a "redesigned atmosphere," astronomical amounts of plastic and automobile tires, nuclear waste and other inorganic poisons, and, eerily, the radio waves that will carry our television broadcasts through the universe for all time. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and thought-provoking Oct. 28 2007
This is a beautifully-written and thought-provoking book. Weisman takes us all over the globe to explore what would happen to our artifacts -- buildings, cities, farms, nature preserves, etc. -- if all the humans suddenly disappeared somehow. In some places, within a couple hundred years it would be hard to tell we were ever there. In other cases, our footprint will be seen for aeons.

This book is many things: An homage to the resilience of nature; a tribute to some of the brilliant and enduring things built by humans; a caution about the irreversible harm we are causing to some parts of the planet; and a plea to protect nature by reducing our impact on it.

I found it hard to put this book down. It covers a wide range of topics, all starting from an intriguing premise ("what if the world had to continue without humans"), and presents ideas and challenges that stayed with me after finishing reading it. I highly recommend it.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Hath People Wrought? Sept. 24 2007
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
The World Without Us raises a novel question (What if there were no people left?) that leads to some surprising answers: The best of what we've done wouldn't survive while most of the worst of our work will. The book also serves as an environmental and social critique of human attitudes and behavior.

Mr. Weisman looked across the globe for places where humans have left to see practical examples of what remains. Newer houses and modern buildings soon collapse, leaving behind only the metal and plastic as mementos. Buildings made of stone will, however, last a long time. Manhattan's surface will sink as water floods subway tunnels while filled-in swamps are refilled. Large predators will grow in numbers while pests that depend on us and our garbage like head lice and rats will do poorly. Domestic animals and plants will soon be wiped out. Nuclear plants will soon be spewing radioactive vapor into the atmosphere while leaving behind in-ground radioactivity for tens of thousands of years. The Panama Canal will soon cease to be a barrier to animal migrations between North and South America. Huge forests will reappear.

I don't want to share too many of the answers (or you won't want to read the book), but there are some pretty powerful ironies about what the most lasting aspects of human existence will be. It's worth reading the book just to find that out.

In the process, you'll learn a lot about the mass extinction that is occurring among species that are vulnerable to human influences.

If we look at what the Earth would be like without us, I suspect we'll all change how we behave every day. It's a cautionary lesson that all should heed.

I liked the way the book was organized.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Mind-boggling at times Sept. 11 2008
The most striking feature is the focus is not on controversial, grand issues like global warming or polution per se. It's everyday things we take for granted that are shocking, like how close subways are to flooding, streets to collapsing; what happens to the world garbage; the pastics that find their ways into living tissues, and so on.

At times, the description is hopeful, such as animals returning to radioactively contaminated land. But at its most hopeful, it is equally sad, perhaps even more so. Like watching someone take their first steps from the hospital after a horrendous car accident that had killed everyone else.

Some of our work on the face of the planet is decades from being swept away by the earth, some polution is hundreds of years from being cleaned. But I was struck speechless by dates that extended into thousands or millions of years. The chapter on plastics as well as nuclear waste is still in my mind. As well as fantastic measures considered to warn future generations or other intelligent life forms after us to what we've put in the earth.

The message for me was: it can and will get better, but it will never be the way it was. Ever.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER

"Picture a world from which we [humans] all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow...Leave [everything on the Earth's surface] all in place, but extract [all] the human beings...

How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms? How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines?

How long would it take to recover lost ground and restore Eden to the way it must have gleamed and smelled the day before Adam, or [humans], appeared?

Could nature ever obliterate all our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? ...

And what of our finest creations--our architecture, our art, our many manifestations of spirit? Are any truly timeless, at least enough so to last until the sun expands and roasts our Earth to a cinder?

And even after THAT, might we have left some faint, enduring mark on the universe...of Earthly humanity; some interplanetary sign that once we were here? ...

Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?"

The above premise and numerous questions are found in the introduction to this fascinating, unique, extremely well-written book by award-winning journalist and author Alan Weisman.

WARNING! This is not a book of fiction but of rational scientific speculation. In fact, the magazine article on which this book is based and expands, was selected for "Best American Science Writing 2006.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating "what if" On a Global Scale
Ever wondered what would happen if all human beings simply disappeared? So did Alan Weisman and this book was the result of his travels, interviews and thoughts on the subject of... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Daffy Bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!!!
This is one of the most thorough and detailed books I have ever read, on any topic. I am by no means an environmental enthusiast, but this book looks critically at our effect on... Read more
Published on Oct. 14 2010 by awdryden
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, when it sticks to the subject
I bought this book thinking it would be an interesting diversion - a sort of whimsical mind experiment. Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2009 by Tony Chu
3.0 out of 5 stars The world will be ok...
This was interesting read and Weisman does a good job of encouraging the reader to ponder what will happen if humans were to suddenly be raptured. Read more
Published on March 7 2009 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Gone, Baby, Gone
Alan Weisman's THE WORLD WITHOUT US is a sobering look at a possible future, where humans are no longer part of the equation but the Earth, as they say, abides. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2009 by Cliff Burns
5.0 out of 5 stars Withdrawal symptoms
According to some biologists, the Earth is suffering an "infestation". The afflicting organism, "Homo sapiens" has overrun the planet. Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2007 by Stephen A. Haines
5.0 out of 5 stars The single best thing we can do for the environment
The author provides a very important supplement to the growing pro-environmental movement. What I particularly enjoyed about this book was its pitch. Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2007 by Eric Draven
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and disturbing
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,... Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2007 by LJM
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide-Ranging Overview of the Effects of Humans on Nature
Although the author does discuss what would happen to buildings, roads and a variety of other man-made structures - ancient as well as recent - if humans suddenly ceased to exist,... Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2007 by G. Poirier
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