Summary and book reviews of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

The World Without Us

By Alan Weisman

The World Without Us
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2007,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2008,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter 9: Polymers are Forever

The port of Plymouth in southwestern England is no longer listed among the scenic towns of the British Isles, although prior to World War II it would have qualified. During six nights of March and April 1941, Nazi bombs destroyed 75,000 buildings in what is remembered as the Plymouth Blitz. When the annihilated city center was rebuilt, a modern concrete grid was superimposed on Plymouth's crooked cobbled lanes, burying its medieval past in memory.

But the main history of Plymouth lies at its edge, in the natural harbor formed at the confluence of two rivers, the Plym and the Tamar, where they join the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. This is the Plymouth from which the Pilgrims departed; they named their American landfall across the sea in its honor. All three of Captain Cook's Pacific expeditions began here, as did Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the globe. And, on December 27, 1831, H.M.S. Beagle set sail from ...

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Reviews

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According to the CIA Factbook, in 2007, for every 8 people who died, 20 were born. Depending on who's estimating that means that the world's population is growing at the rate of about 1 million people every 4 days.

Let's stop for a moment to contemplate this mind-boggling figure. Each week, the global population is increasing by more people than live in the entire of Philadelphia. Each month, the global population increases by almost that of New York.

Somewhere between when my father was born in the 1920s and today, the world's population has increased three-fold from less than 2 billion to over 6 billion. Sheer numbers combined with "advances" in technology have changed humanity from an intelligent mammal subject to the forces of nature but capable of shaping its immediate environment, to a bona fide force of nature that is changing the face of the entire planet, albeit inadvertently.

Free of rabid rantings and written in an immensely accessible style, Weisman has produced a well-balanced and fascinating book crafted to inform, not to panic. There are a myriad of books that examine one or another aspect of man's impact on the earth (rain forest depletion, global warming, water shortages et al) but few offer such a wide-ranging and entertaining overview as The World Without Us which, by imagining a world freed from the pest of humanity, offers a unique perspective on the environmental havoc we are causing.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Washington Post - Michael Grunwald

Ultimately, The World Without Us is trivia masquerading as wisdom. By journeying around the world to interview biologists and paleontologists, engineers and curators, Zápara elders and Masai ecoguides, Weisman has done a remarkably thorough job of answering a question that doesn't particularly matter.

New York Times - Janet Maslin

The World Without Us has an arid, plain, what-if style and an air of relentless foreboding. The book is coaxed from subject to subject by ominous transition phrases. ("But that wouldn't be the biggest problem" is a typical one.)

The New York Times - Jennifer Schuessler

In the end, it’s the cold facts and cooler heads that drive Weisman’s cautionary message powerfully home. When it comes to mass extinctions, one expert tells him, “the only real prediction you can make is that life will go on. And that it will be interesting.” Weisman’s gripping fantasy will make most readers hope that at least some of us can stick around long enough to see how it all turns out.

The New Yorker

Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment—what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished—Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house.

Salon - Gary Kamiya

By appealing not just to our fear and guilt but to our love for our planetary home, The World Without Us makes saving the world as intimate an act as helping a child. It's a trumpet call that sounds from the other end of the universe, and from inside us all.

Kirkus Reviews

Weisman quietly unfolds his sobering cautionary tale,allowing us to conclude what we may about the balancing act that nature and humans need to maintain to survive.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review. 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 under appreciated fact that humankind's actions create a ripple effect across the web of life.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

The Telegraph - Michael Bywater

Environmentalists can seem so unappealing in their dour self-regard as to prompt many of us to switch on an extra appliance and fire up the nearest fossil fuel as an act of defiance, which is stupid and, what's worse, destructive of our unspoken pact with posterity. Weisman comes as a beguiling corrective: the first environmentalist not to preach, but to present us with the sober, humbling facts.

Reader Reviews
Allocen

Boring
It was a well written book and it seemed very interesting at first but I could not get into it. Books like The Kite Runner or Breaking Dawn, books like those were you just wanna keep reading and not put it down.

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Did you know?

  • Oil based plastic does not simply go away; according to The World Without Us, almost every piece of plastic made is still here with us today, whether it be polystyrene, viscose, vinyl, PVC, nylon, polyester, polyethylene, saran wrap or acrylic - virtually every plastic bag, every McDonald's Happy Meal toy, every plastic candy wrapper and every plastic water bottle; not to mention the plastic interior or exterior of virtually every modern device from cars to ...

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