4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Mind-boggling at times
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...
Published on Sep 11 2008 by ocean being
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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. However, scientific rigour is lacking for more than a few opinions that appear to be vaguely veiled enviro propaganada as opposed to meaninful conjecture upon further thought.
I'm better for having read this book as...
Published on Mar 7 2009 by Miguel the forester
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating. Mind-boggling at times,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What will happen to the world if we're not around??,
"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."
Weisman obtains all the answers to the questions posed above by "drawing on the expertise of [such people as] engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, astrophysicists, religious leaders...and paleontologists."
The author goes beyond scientific speculation to observation by taking us to present day, forgotten places where there are no human beings (such as Chernobyl). He makes some enlightening discoveries in these places.
All the chapters are extremely interesting but here are my personal favorites:
(1) The city without us
(2) What falls apart
(3) What lasts
(4) Polymers are forever
(5) The world without farms
(6) The world without war
(7) Hot legacy (deals with things nuclear)
(8) Art beyond us
Finally, throughout there are black & white pictures and illustrations. I found many of these interesting. Note that the cover of this book (displayed above by Amazon) is especially interesting showing a city skyline reflected in the water as the way it possibly was before humans came along.
In conclusion, this is truly a unique book destined, in my opinion, to become a classic!!
(first published 2007; prelude; 4 parts or 19 chapters; coda; main narrative 275 pages; acknowledgments; bibliography; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and thought-provoking,
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.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Hath People Wrought?,
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. Most of the observations are built from specific locales and interviews with those who best know the science involved. I came away with several ideas of places I would like to visit that would never have occurred to me otherwise.
Those who don't want to read a book about how the environment is being damaged will find this book annoying because that secondary message is deeply embedded in the primary message.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating "what if" On a Global Scale,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)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 planet Earth less the invasive species known as Homo sapiens. Weisman takes the reader on a global tour that shows both islands of nature nearly untouched by human hands and also the very centres of our technological world; from the last old-growth forest in Europe to the giant petrochemical complex that sits both on the ground and below the ground of Texas. He taps the knowledge of scientists, industrialists and ecologists the world over to speculate on how Mother Earth would survive if Humanity disappeared today. How we disappear is not important, what happens to Earth after we leave is the fascinating tale that Weisman sets out to tell.
This is a very touching and often very surprising book (who knew that the DMZ separating the two Koreas has become a nature refuge?). Part cautionary tale, part humbling look in the mirror, Weisman's book leaves you thinking a lot more about what we've done to this pretty little planet, what our future as a species is and how quickly much of what we have created would vanish once we're gone. Human technology has left a huge imprint on this world but Nature is resilient and works in geologic ages. It's an interesting struggle between the two that is going on all around us. I can't recommend this thoughtful, well-written book enough; it's a book that will stay with you long after you've read it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wide-Ranging Overview of the Effects of Humans on Nature,
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Withdrawal symptoms,
The great metropolis of New York City is one focal point in this account. Once traversed by 40 meandering streams feeding the ocean and river, the island, but for its striking Central Park, is now "tamed". Massive buildings line its many kilometres of pavement, and the storm sewer systems have replaced Nature's waterways. Yet, those rivulets persist, demanding flow rights. The loss of humanity would shut down the 753 pumps that keep the subway tunnels relatively dry. The streams, assisted by the bordering river and ocean would quickly inundate them. The bridges' streams of vehicles haven't stopped the return of wildlife to the city, and human abandonment would accelerate the process. Botany's realm, however, may never recover its original domain. Too many human-introduced species have an irresistible foothold. Those tall buildings bracketing the asphalt ribbons would also ultimately break down, providing havens for birds and small mammals before succumbing. The one species we've all been taught to be the ultimate survivor - the kitchen cockroach - would disappear with the first harsh winter.
Weisman doesn't limit his account for his native land's reading audience, however. The entire planet becomes his information hunting ground. An ancient patch of forest in Eastern Europe has been protected for centuries by hunting noblemen. While the deletion of humans would allow the forest to expand, it's likely the confined herd of European bison would enjoy the same recovery. In our original homeland, the natural predator-prey balance would be briefly offset by the ready meals our domesticated animals would provide. Herds of cattle, goats and sheep in Africa, untutored by natural selection to avoid lions and cheetahs, would fill feline bellies. Where the big cats would rule undeterred for a time, many microbes would be forced to make some spectacular adjustments. Oil dumps and nuclear stations, slowly breaking down would flood the landscape with hydrocarbons and radiation. Some microbes are already resistant to radioactive elements while some can "eat" oil. Others would have to expand their range of comestibles by adapting to them over millennia. Whether similar adjustments might be made for the mass of plastics we've dumped into the world remains an open question, Weisman says.
Although his original premise may be fantasy, the crux of his discussion is based on solid science. His interviews are with people who are in a position to gauge how we affect the world. Some of them are in place to prevent the recursion of nature into the habitat we've created for our species' benefit. One, archaeologist Arthur Demarest, is investigating a small segment of "the world without us", the site of the Maya realm. The 1600-year-long reign of those Central American people must have seemed "destined to thrive forever". The "spectacular, sudden collapse" took only a century. The return of the rainforest hides their existence from European invaders' eyes for another millennium.
Although Weisman's view of a dehumanised planet is compelling, almost desirable, he knows neither he nor his readership would be pleased by our extinction. We want to go on existing. Yet, he notes, "every four days, the world population rises by four million" - a clearly unsustainable rate of growth. Weisman has a scenario for survival, but its application would have to be nearly as instantaneous as his scenario of disappearance. His aim is curtailment of the human infestation - by the "draconian measure" of universal birth control. He argues that every human female must be limited to producing but one offspring. A challenging scenario, obviously, but one which he argues would reduce the planet's infesting species to a total of 1.6 billion by the end of this century. The number's validity may be disputed, but the goal is admirable. Could such a scenario possibly be envisioned, let alone implemented? It's that, he says, or a new wave of human colonisation - on other planets. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking, when it sticks to the subject,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)I bought this book thinking it would be an interesting diversion - a sort of whimsical mind experiment. The premise of the book is that something has wiped out all of humankind, but left the earth itself (and pretty much all of the other life forms on it) intact - say for instance a virus that destroys the viability of all human sperm. What I expected to find was the author's speculation about say, what some future archeologists would find as remnants of our civilization - but of course it would all be hypothetical, impossible to verify, and easy to dismiss.
What I got instead was a lot more, and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes I got the information I expected, about what parts of my everyday world would survive the longest and why (and the answers were in some cases not what I expected!). But I also got my eyes opened in a number of other ways. Without giving too much away, I'll just mention three:
Surprise #1 - it turns out there are a number of legacies that we would leave (if we disappeared today) that I hadn't thought of (a few examples - thousands of intact nuclear warheads, millions of CFC/HCFC-containing air conditioners and refrigerators, nuclear waste).
Surprise #2 - there are in fact real situations with real data, where we can see small scale examples of what will happen. Surprisingly, one is the DMZ in Korea - which has been forcibly uninhabited by people for 50 years. Another is Chernobyl (to see what can happen if removal of human monitoring leads to a nuclear meltdown). And it turns out we can learn what will survive from our day-to-day households by seeing what has survived from the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans, etc.
Surprise #3 - this is a wide-ranging book. I was impressed by the number of questions that were raised and answered that I had never even thought of. Examples:
a) will cockroaches really inherit the earth?
b) what will happen to all the domesticated dogs and cats?
c) what will happen to underground malls, and other underground structures (like subways, or the "Chunnel" between England and France)
d) what will happen to the Panama Canal?
e) what will happen when there is no more acid rain, insecticide, or crop fertilizer?
So overall I highly recommend this book. I do have a couple of minor comments, to explain why I didn't give it a 5th star:
1. Anyone who is turned off by reading about how we are ruining the environment is not going to like whole sections of this book (especially the part about how long-lasting plastics and polymers are), and
2. I thought a couple of times the author made topical detours in the book. For instance he describes at some length how mankind is thought to have migrated from Africa and caused the extinction of many large animal speciies in the Americas (apparently there used to be quite a lot of "megafauna" like American lions, giant beavers, giant armadillos, mammoths, etc.) This, while interesting, seemed a bit off topic to me.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!!!,
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The important lesson to learn from this book is that whether the changes in our environment (ex:global warming) are real or not, or will outlast us or not, this is still the only ecosystem we have and we need to maintain it as best as we can for as long as we can.
4.0 out of 5 stars Gone, Baby, Gone,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)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. The book brings to mind those apocalyptic, end-of-the-world stories science fiction authors like to scare us with...but Mr. Weisman's approach to the subject is down to earth, the tone of matter-of-factness he employs throughout is downright chilling at times. A terrific companion piece to the book is a wonderful documentary put together by the History Channel called "Life After People". [...]
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The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Paperback - July 14 2008)
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