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"Alan Weisman offers us a sketch of where we stand as a species that is both illuminating and terrifying. His tone is conversational and his affection for both Earth and humanity transparent."--Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams
"An exacting account of the processes by which things fall apart. The scope is breathtaking...the clarity and lyricism of the writing itself left me with repeated gasps of recognition about the human condition. I believe it will be a classic."--Dennis Covington, author of National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain
"Fascinating, mordant, deeply intelligent, and beautifully written, The World Without Us depicts the spectacle of humanity's impact on the planet Earth in tragically poignant terms that go far beyond the dry dictates of science. This is a very important book for a species playing games with its own destiny."--James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A Lingering Scent of Eden
You may never have heard of the Bialowieza Puszcza. But if you were raised somewhere in the temperate swathe that crosses much of North America, Japan, Korea, Russia, several former Soviet republics, parts of China, Turkey, and Eastern and Western Europe—including the British Isles—something within you remembers it. If instead you were born to tundra or desert,subtropics or tropics, pampas or savannas, there are still places on Earth kindred to this puszcza to stir your memory, too. Puszcza, an old Polish word, means forest primeval. Straddling the border between Poland and Belarus, the half-million acres of the Bialowieza Puszcza contain Europe’s last remaining fragment of old-growth, lowland wilderness. Think of themisty, brooding forest that loomed behind your eyelids when, as a child, someone read you the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. Here, ash and linden trees tower nearly 150 feet, their huge canopies shading a moist, tangled understory of hornbeams, ferns, swamp alders and crockery-sized fungi. Oaks, shrouded with half a millennium of moss, grow so immense here that great spotted woodpeckers store spruce cones in their three-inch-deep bark furrows. The air, thick and cool, is draped with silence that parts briefly for a nutcracker’s croak, a pygmy owl’s low whistle, or a wolf’s wail, then returns to stillness.
- File size : 1539 KB
- Publication date : July 10, 2007
- Publisher : Thomas Dunne Books (July 10, 2007)
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Print length : 432 pages
- ASIN : B000U20486
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #206,677 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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So, Weisman takes us on a tour from the mass extinction of the passenger pigeon in North American, to the Moa bird in New Zealand. We look at climate change, nuclear waste, and plastic islands in the oceans. It is a depressing catalog.
The only bright spot is that, to quote Jurassic Park, nature finds a way. Animals, plants and birds no longer found in Korea thrive in the depopulated DMZ. In the quarantine zone around Chernobyl, wolves have returned, along with moose, deer, badger, and horses.
The take away, the world will do fine without us. In fact, it might just thrive.
Mr. Weisman’s book is not preachy. The exercise is focused on scientific speculations if humans suddenly disappeared or never existed. It leads to interesting scenarios. For instance, the author wonders if some of the extinct large mammals would have survived up to today if they had never met humans that likely slaughtered them into oblivion. His research has him traveling all around the globe. Mr. Weisman addresses many issues that I had not considered such as radioactive material in the manner of weapons and nuclear energy stations, the ungodly amounts of plastic, and other artificial chemical creations. Surprisingly, some evidence that we were here will still be around if any other life form evolves into a more complex organism or aliens decide to examine our planet. The author also explains the impact that the invention of agriculture, fertilizers, human-made toxins that will not break down, and mucking around modifying plants genes will have as the future continues to unfold. If we suddenly disappeared, nature would not go back to what it once was. We’ve driven many species into extinction and are still doing so. Also the intentional and unintentional introduction of invasive species around the world will not just throw up white flags and disappear from their new homes. It will take time for the ozone to repair itself and rising global temperatures will continue to cause havoc for awhile. Some of the notable places or things covered include the Chunnel, the Great Wall of China, the Panama Canal, Mt. Rushmore, Koreas’ DMZ, and most interestingly an ancient underground city in Turkey. The author also explains the daily massacre of wildlife, ocean life, and birds that truly took my breath away. ‘The World Without Us’ is sparsely adorned with black-and-white photos and maps.
The world is always changing. It is not a constant place. It’s estimated that life began nearly four-billion-years ago. Recognizable humans came onto the scene at no more than two-millions-years ago. The age of Earth and the human race’s existence on it is comparable to the length of a person’s lifespan and the duration of a normal fart. We are one organism on a planet replete with other life forms… or at least life forms humans, weather, or asteroids have not yet driven to extinction. If looked upon from afar, human overpopulation is a pestilence on Earth’s diverse ecosystem. If you are a betting person, the odds are humans will eventually become extinct and evolution will fill in our absence with other life forms. ‘The World Without Us’ is a highly interesting what-if exercise in evolution or adaptability if you will. Ultimately, seen from the long view of time, humans will lose and other life forms will fill in our departure. Mr. Weisman takes you on an informative trip from the comfort your couch-potato existence. Oh, and mosquitoes will have the last laugh. Once we’re gone, they’ll rebound with a vengeance.
And Weisman does explain just that. But he does so in the first few chapters. The remain 15 or so go into details about Earth without man you never would have expected. He examines places like Cyprus and the Korean DMZ, which people haven't touched in ages. He takes you places you never would have expected. Each chapter is a different story, a different location, a different analysis. Each could be it's own article.
This book ends up teaching a lot about human history as well. I certainly didn't expect that.
This book is an interesting read, a learning adventure across the globe. As cheesy as it sounds, its a great ride.
Top reviews from other countries
It becomes apparent, beyond the first third of the book, that Weisman is not only interested in detailing this return to nature of the physical world. Here, The World Without Us necessarily turns to the current human impact, including the destruction of natural habitats, widespread species extinction, and the release of various pollutants into the biosphere. Deprived of the apocalypse’s intrinsic fascination, and hammering home the noxious effect of industrial civilization on the rest of Planet Earth, the book becomes more difficult to read, but no less valuable. When it ends with a glimpse of a way forward, through voluntary human depopulation, it comes as a breath of relief that Weisman still retains some hope for humanity and the wider world.
The book’s multitude of themed chapters zig-zag somewhat unevenly between varied topics, ranging between everything to bird migration and their electrocution by power poles to efforts to bury nuclear waste. This lends it the feel of something stitched together from a collection author’s existing essays and reporting. Combined with the frankly depressing subject matter, I thus found The World Without Us easier to read in a number of shorter sessions. As other reviewers have noted, Weisman’s journalistic eye for irrelevant detail can also bog down some sections; especially his penchant for detailing the personal quirks of his interviewees. After the enervating slog of the book’s latter half, I had hoped for more constructive solutions to the numerous problems Weisman highlights. His ending plea for a voluntary reduction in the human population likely merits its own book to satisfactorily address, and indeed Weisman has written one, ‘Countdown,’ although I haven’t read it. As described here, however, the notion is under-developed, ignoring the importance of per capita consumption, and the benefits of economic expansion on per capita productivity.
By the conclusion of The World Without Us, I was left with the impression that Weisman’s real purpose in writing it was not to detail how and when human impacts will fade – though he does, with aplomb – but that Earth’s biosphere, and hence humanity itself, is under immediate threat from the excesses of industrial civilization. This message is true, and important, and even more urgent now, writing in 2020, than when Weisman penned this book in 2007. Yet I would have preferred to conclude this dismal thesis with a greater focus on practical suggestions for a collective way forward. With the book weighted so heavily against this, it’s easy to put it down and slide into a misanthropic funk. Absent any economic or political argument, readers without existing green sympathies may not be rallied to Weisman’s flag. The World Without Us is nevertheless a compelling and accomplished piece of non-fiction, highly recommended to the interested reader.
This book answers many of the questions I had, gives answers to questions I had never thought of and raises lots of new scenarios that might become reality one day.
In most cases, the short answer to the question ‘what will the world be like without humans?’ is (sadly) ‘much better’.
The book covers a myriad of topics, from coral bleaching to the Chernobyl disaster, from plastic to the Panama Canal, from the Demilitarised Zone in Korea to the decay of New York after humans have left; it really is a fascinating look at how we have changed (ruined?) the world.
As stated on page 232, “the only real prediction you can make is that life will go on. And that it will be interesting”.
I had expected a different structure. On page one I expected the proposition that suddenly all humans on Earth had disappeared to be followed in the rest of the book of a description of how nature reclaimed the world. Instead this book is thematic, each chapter discussing a different topic, how humans have affected this topic and what would happen when humans cease to affect it.
There are also visits to various illustrative places. He begins with a primary forest on the Polish Belarus border as an example of a place mostly untouched by humans. There is a visit to a deserted holiday resort wedged between Turkish and Greek Cyprus; there is a visit to the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, and there is a visit to Chernobyl. These are all examples of how nature reclaims, and reclaims quickly. There is also a visit to the huge petrochemical complex in southern Texas and a discussion of how this would degrade once humans are gone and then a discussion of how nuclear power stations would act in a human-less future. A visit to an agricultural research station in England shows how farming has shaped the land and how, once humans go, the farmland will return to nature.
My particular favourite concerns plastics , how some of them degrade and how many of them will not, to be left as alien objects in a natural world surviving into geologic time. And in the middle of the Pacific, in an area called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, there is a small-continent-sized floating garbage dump of plastics. I am also grateful to the author for introducing me to the term nurdles, which are small plastic pellets, manufactured in bulk.
All these topics are interesting and thought-provoking. However, the style is journalistic reportage, showing the book's origins in an extended magazine article. The people the author used as sources are named and fully described. For some readers this may be irritating. For those who do not find this style irritating and do not mind reading a series of interconnected magazine articles, I would recommend this book.
One minor quibble is the author's predilection for describing his interviewees: do we really need to know that "He rummages in a desk drawer, then closes it"? What does this add? But don't let that put you off. This is an important book, containing a huge mass of research and information, hidden behind a misleading title.