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The World Without Us Paperback – August 5, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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. I guess the idea is to do the "popular science" "let's make science relevant to the common man" thing; by fleshing out the otherwise faceless scientists with details of their lives and personalities. Boring. If the science itself isn't interesting, don't expect the scientists to make up for it!
I also thought there could have been a lot more science in this book. There is a fair bit, but it's often just mentioned in passing and not explained in any detail. With the general style of the book, I guess maybe they didn't want to make it too "technical". The end result is that unless you have a fairly broad scientific education (I do) you are going to struggle to understand any of the brief explanations for phenomena described in the book. I often found myself wishing for a whole extra paragraph of explanation on the scientific aspects.
Instead we get more of a focus on philosophy, big picture musings and what I would call "poetic" writing. It didn't work for me.
There is also two quite different themes dealt with by this book: what will happen to our civilisation's artefacts (buildings, monuments, waste etc) after we are gone, and what will happen to the natural world after we are gone. Switching between the two gives a lack of focus.
I do hope Weisman writes more books. Writing style can always be improved (just write more books!), but imagination and insight can't be fashioned so easily. The author is an imaginative thinker, and reading more from him would be interesting.