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The World Without Us Hardcover – July 10, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 462 customer reviews

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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.
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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 (462 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My wife & I have lived on 19 acres in the southeastern USA for the last 13 years. Our policy on most of the land is to let nature do what it will with as little intervention as possible, and one of the most pleasant aspects of this is watching the progression of nature as barren soil becomes "weeds" then small trees then a young forest. In the warm, wet climate of the southeast, this happens very quickly. In the last few years, we have witnessed the return of forest birds, such as warblers, and the departure of pasture and cropland species.

So, the premise of "The World Without Us" resonated with me: suddenly, there are no humans; what happens next? It's difficult to see how this postulated situation could develop; war, catastrophic climate change or an asteroid collision would cause considerable damage to non-human aspects of the world, for example. A particularly virulent disease might do the trick, but how the people disappear is outside the scope of the book; they're just gone. What happens afterward is the subject here.

Recent heavy rains in New York City have validated Mr. Weisman's first conclusion: the subways will flood, only without people to keep the pumps running, they stay flooded, undermining the towers of Manhattan. Steel corrodes; glass breaks; bricks and mortar fall apart. In a few decades, Manhattan has become a forest again. A recent trip to Central America convinces me that dogs might not survive without humans; the dogs there barely survive alongside the very poor humans.

I am skeptical of some of the details of Mr. Weisman's scenario. Ailanthus trees do very well in a city, but are they sufficiently shade-tolerant to survive in a mature forest?
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