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The World Without Us Hardcover – July 10, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312347294
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312347291
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (416 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From 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. Among the highlights: with pumps not working, the New York City subways would fill with water within days, while weeds and then trees would retake the buckled streets and wild predators would ravage the domesticated dogs. Texas’s unattended petrochemical complexes might ignite, scattering hydrogen cyanide to the winds—a "mini chemical nuclear winter." After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires, and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and, with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

I found this book by Alan Weisman very well researched and thought provoking.
John Schindler
The World Without Us is a fascinating thought experiment about what life would be like on Earth without humans.
J. J. Kwashnak
Without a doubt, this is one of the most interesting books I've read in some time.
Timothy Haugh

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

208 of 219 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on July 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is a charming book on a macabre subject: if every person on earth died tomorrow what would happen to the works of man? Using New York as an example the author details the slow, inevitable destruction of the subways, bridges, buildings, the return of the forests and the animals, and the disposition of those things that never seem to go away: poisonous heavy metals, plastic, and radioactive waste.

He also describes the decay of man-made works in other parts of the world, including a vivid description of what would happen to an oil field in Texas if humans suddenly disappeared. That would be hell in the short term -- but some of the speculations about earth without humans sound pretty attractive: back to the Garden of Eden, before Adam, Eve, and the snake.

The book is a cautionary one, telling about the fate of earlier societies who outran the potential for their environment, and taking the long view of the human species -- up till and including the final demise when the sun becomes a big cinder about 5 billion years for now. Will the last work of man to survive be a plastic water bottle? An amusing section gives a voice to the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement -- which proposes that human beings help themselves become extinct. Another describes the Pioneer spacecraft, sent out to hunt for other forms of intelligent life in the Universe. All that other civilizations may know of us is contained on the spacecraft: Mozart, Chuck Berry, and a few other details, to be precise.

It's a fascinating read of well-reasoned speculation.

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Format: Hardcover
Basically, this focuses on a "what if" situation: what if something, be it the bird flu, a new virus or (fill in the blanks) destroyed all the people on Earth? What then? What would happen to our world, without us in it?

Using a combination of very solid research and science, the author gives readers a view of what would -and would not - endure -and for how long. He gives a look at the world shortly after we leave and then a futuristic look at its evolution from there, with various scenarios. I found it riveting to read. Also, it made me realize that, as important as we may consider ourselves, the earth could evolve and change without us, often in positive ways. It was humbling, at least for me.

Finally, the writer's style is just breathtaking. I can't sum it up here (it'd be like trying to describe a painting instead of seeing it firsthand) but the writing makes the book extremely rewarding. I'd have gotten through it, even if written by a less competent writer, because I find the subject matter inherently fascinating, but I'm grateful that this was so nicely done.
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154 of 174 people found the following review helpful By Andreas Mross on November 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've always found this topic interesting, so when I heard that this book was coming out I rang the bookshop straight away and reserved a copy. Finding old ruins or remains in the bush fascinates me; an old fence running straight through thick scrub, or an abandoned railway cutting with trees growing through it. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" After finishing the book though, I can't say I would go out of my way to recommend it. It's not bad.. just disappointing. The topic holds a lot of promise; this book just doesn't deliver.

The foundations are all there; the topic is novel and the amount of research the author has done and the creative thinking used should have provided more than enough material for an interesting book.

I think the problem is with the writing. The approach taken is very similar to that seen in Jared Diamond's books; in each chapter, introduce a different place in the world, discuss it's specific situation or history, then draw out a more general conclusion from the more specific situation. It's worked for Jared Diamond, but it doesn't work here. The problem is that in many chapters the author does too good a job of concealing what general point he is trying to make; several times I found myself thinking "This is a moderately interesting story... but what does it have to do with the topic of the book?" After finishing some chapters I found I still wasn't sure!

The writing style also grates. He uses a kind of journalistic, "reporter on the scene" approach. "Jim swivelled clockwise in his chair, as he revealed the true reason behind the drop in pH in the pacific's coral atolls!". There is a perplexing amount of fluff regarding scientist's hairstyles, what they're wearing, where they went to school and other filler.
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98 of 112 people found the following review helpful By B. McEwan VINE VOICE on July 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an oddly hopeful book. Hopefull because it offers compelling evidence that life on earth will outlive human tampering with the ecosystem, yet odd because it also demonstrates that the world won't miss us much. In fact, it's pretty clear that, on balance, the world would be better off without us.

"Balance" is the key here, something that we as a species know little about. Even though we are well aware that we're destroying our own habitat, and have been for at least 60 years, we can't seem to stop ourselves. But author Alan Weisman isn't a scold and doesn't do a lot of overt finger wagging, which is one of the reasons to buy this book. Rather, he offers absorbing examples of the many ways in which life bounces back after eco-tragedies like Chernobyl and, going back farther in time, various ice ages, volcano eruptions and asteroid pummelings.

One of my favorite examples is Weisman's description of the DMZ between the two Koreas, which has been a no-man's land since the late 50s when a stalemate was reached between the two sides. Rare cranes are staging a comeback in this zone, as are various types of flora and fauna that would probably be extinct by now were it not for this narrow strip of land where people don't go. And this resurgence has taken place in spite of rampant pollution and periodic explosions from abandoned land mines. There is even a conservation group that has grown up in South Korea to advocate for the cranes and, by association, preservation of the DMZ. There's one upside to the continuing standoff at the 38th parallel.

Lately, I have been interested in emerging viruses and the resurgence of diseases that humans believed we conquered (at least in the US) such as TB and cholera.
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More About the Author

Author of the critically acclaimed New
York Times best seller The World
Without Us, Alan Weisman is an
award-winning journalist whose reports
have appeared in HarperÄôs, the New
York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly,
Discover, and Orion, among others,
and on National Public Radio. A former
contributing editor to the Los Angeles
Times Magazine, he is a senior radio
producer for Homelands Productions
and teaches international journalism at
the University of Arizona. He lives in
western Massachusetts.

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