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The World Without Us Paperback – Jul 22 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
"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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This book is so very thought provoking. I read it a few times and it just kind of stays with you. Very haunting and interesting concepts.Published 2 months ago by singingsiren
As you open the pages of this book you may it hard to close. In startling detail, author Alan Weisman describes graphically what would happen if humans didn't exist. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Don Cassidy
Amazing price. Condition of item was better than describedPublished 14 months ago by Daniel Toubassy
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 morePublished on Nov. 27 2012 by Daffy Bibliophile
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 morePublished on Oct. 14 2010 by awdryden
I bought this book thinking it would be an interesting diversion - a sort of whimsical mind experiment. Read morePublished on Sept. 6 2009 by Tony Chu