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The World Without Us Paperback – August 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Because of the scientific terminology and the interlinked data amassed bit by bit, this is not an easy read for narrator or lay listener. But it's a fascinating book, and Grupper handles it well. Grupper's careful narration brings to life Weisman's judicious organization, unambiguous grammatical structure and vivid descriptions of what would become of land, sea, fish, flora and fauna should humans disappear from the face of the earth. Weisman explains the earth's capacity for self-healing. Unchecked by human intervention, a city like New York would flood within days, its buildings and infrastructure would collapse, and soon the city would revert to its original ecosystem. But the message of the book is our legacy to the universe: Every bit of plastic manufactured over the last 80 years or so still remains somewhere in the environment. Weisman and Grupper convert abstract environmental concepts into concrete ideas. Broadly and meticulously researched, finely interwoven journalism and imaginative projection, the book is an utterly convincing call to action.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From The New Yorker
Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experimentwhat would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguishedWeisman 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. Texass unattended petrochemical complexes might ignite, scattering hydrogen cyanide to the windsa "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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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.
Although Alan Weisman acknowledges that it is unlikely that our species will quickly perish, he still addresses this question in The World Without Us in order to more closely examine our environmental impact. Weisman examines human impact ranging from megafauna extinctions to genetically modified plants and from the altered composition of the atmosphere to what will happen to cities and nuclear plants when we leave. Unlike many authors that address human environmental impact, Weisman takes a surprisingly positive approach. Perhaps our impact may not be as lasting as many view it to be. In many of these chapters he does note that some things will last long after we have gone. Although, this does not appear to be his main focus.
The book is well written, captivating, and definitely gives hope that Homo sapiens have not forever destroyed many aspects of the world. The atmosphere can return to normal despite the holes we have contributed to in the ozone layer. Forests can thrive even after we come through and displaced many species and harvest many trees. Despite these positive points, Weisman does some things that will last longer, but I find that Weisman fails to emphasize the fact that our impact will forever alter the world. The species that have gone extinct can never come back. Yes, extinction is a natural part of growth for the world, but many species have gone extinct primarily because of humans. At the same time I think of the fact that we must have an impact. There is no way for a species to have no impact. Each species on the planet affects many others both directly and indirectly.
One example of when Weisman fails to bring concern is when he talks of the impact our production of plastics is having. We are not seeing plastics biodegrade. There is hope that something will develop the ability to degrade the plastics, but in the meantime it will continue to kill all sorts of wildlife as they ingest it. The rubber we use for tires also has yet to find something that can degrade it. Both rubber and plastic will likely be around long after Homo sapiens are gone and continue to affect the world we left behind. Yet, after reading these segments by Weisman, I did not feel incredibly compelled to minimize my use of plastic or rubber. Weisman does not seem to be rallying people against their negative environmental impact. Since humans will likely be around a long time, we need to work on lessening the impact that we have, and I found that Weisman did not emphasize this as I believe he should.
Comparing Weisman to George Perkins Marsh, we find some things that at least appear to contradict each other. Marsh examines the balance that is a key part of nature. As humans expend resources, they don't come back as they were. Nature is not able to bring itself back to where it was. Weisman seems to find that nature can reflect what it was in the past, and he appears to find this acceptable. Perhaps this is all we can ever expect. It may be best that nature is not exactly as it was. It is ever changing and adjusting together with all its interconnected parts. Whatever the result, Weisman finds hope where many fail to.
Weisman also alludes to human's desire to be remembered. We've sent off signals to try and contact other intelligent life, and we do our best to preserve our bodies that inevitably decay anyways. If you think about it, we all have a desire to be remembered by others, to do something which will have impact that will outlast our bodies. However, we want to make sure that what we leave does not doom the earth that housed us for so long.
That's not to say simple can't be excellent, but with how World... presents its info, it feels like Weisman did the bare minimum amount of research--as if his only source was a single introductory class or textbook filtered through a writer's whimsy. E.g., he shies away from referencing original research, and instead frequently mentions news articles inaccurately referencing original research as his sources. E.g., he references a number of outdated terms or ideas, such as continental drift or, positively, "The cure for pollution is dilution." (Ouch....)
World... is an alright book, but there are certainly better-written alternatives out there that cover all the same material and more. And, as a science journalist with as big an audience as he has, Weisman really shouldn't be skimping out on his homework.
That said, it's really not too bad if you're in need of an introduction to these environmental topics.