47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Withdrawal symptoms
According to some biologists, the Earth is suffering an "infestation". The afflicting organism, "Homo sapiens" has overrun the planet. The infection is recent, several thousand years old in its most virulent phase. During that brief period, however, the surface of the planet has been seriously transformed. Alan Weisman has confronted the impact of our infection of the...
Published on 27 Nov 2007 by Stephen A. Haines
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting thought experiment
The basic premise that underlies this book is actually rather interesting - what would happen to the world if humans were no longer here - not destroyed in some catastrophic fashion that would also impact on the rest of the world, but just died rapidly. It explores a range of aspects of human life and plots what would happen to them over time. While being very readable I...
Published on 5 Jun 2009 by SCM
Most Helpful First | Newest First
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting thought experiment,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)The basic premise that underlies this book is actually rather interesting - what would happen to the world if humans were no longer here - not destroyed in some catastrophic fashion that would also impact on the rest of the world, but just died rapidly. It explores a range of aspects of human life and plots what would happen to them over time. While being very readable I am not sure that the whole book matches the quality of the initial idea. I ended up feeling that it was a missed opportunity.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Withdrawal symptoms,
The great metropolis of New York City is one focal point in this account. Once traversed by 40 meandering streams feeding the ocean and river, the island, but for its striking Central Park, is now "tamed". Massive buildings line its many kilometres of pavement, and the storm sewer systems have replaced Nature's waterways. Yet, those rivulets persist, demanding flow rights. The loss of humanity would shut down the 753 pumps that keep the subway tunnels relatively dry. The streams, assisted by the bordering river and ocean would quickly inundate them. The bridges' streams of vehicles haven't stopped the return of wildlife to the city, and human abandonment would accelerate the process. Botany's realm, however, may never recover its original domain. Too many human-introduced species have an irresistible foothold. Those tall buildings bracketing the asphalt ribbons would also ultimately break down, providing havens for birds and small mammals before succumbing. The one species we've all been taught to be the ultimate survivor - the kitchen cockroach - would disappear with the first harsh winter.
Weisman doesn't limit his account for his native land's reading audience, however. The entire planet becomes his information hunting ground. An ancient patch of forest in Eastern Europe has been protected for centuries by hunting noblemen. While the deletion of humans would allow the forest to expand, it's likely the confined herd of European bison would enjoy the same recovery. In our original homeland, the natural predator-prey balance would be briefly offset by the ready meals our domesticated animals would provide. Herds of cattle, goats and sheep in Africa, untutored by natural selection to avoid lions and cheetahs, would fill feline bellies. Where the big cats would rule undeterred for a time, many microbes would be forced to make some spectacular adjustments. Oil dumps and nuclear stations, slowly breaking down would flood the landscape with hydrocarbons and radiation. Some microbes are already resistant to radioactive elements while some can "eat" oil. Others would have to expand their range of comestibles by adapting to them over millennia. Whether similar adjustments might be made for the mass of plastics we've dumped into the world remains an open question, Weisman says.
Although his original premise may be fantasy, the crux of his discussion is based on solid science. His interviews are with people who are in a position to gauge how we affect the world. Some of them are in place to prevent the recursion of nature into the habitat we've created for our species' benefit. One, archaeologist Arthur Demarest, is investigating a small segment of "the world without us", the site of the Maya realm. The 1600-year-long reign of those Central American people must have seemed "destined to thrive forever". The "spectacular, sudden collapse" took only a century. The return of the rainforest hides their existence from European invaders' eyes for another millennium.
Although Weisman's view of a dehumanised planet is compelling, almost desirable, he knows neither he nor his readership would be pleased by our extinction. We want to go on existing. Yet, he notes, "every four days, the world population rises by four million" - a clearly unsustainable rate of growth. Weisman has a scenario for survival, but its application would have to be nearly as instantaneous as his scenario of disappearance. His aim is curtailment of the human infestation - by the "draconian measure" of universal birth control. He argues that every human female must be limited to producing but one offspring. A challenging scenario, obviously, but one which he argues would reduce the planet's infesting species to a total of 1.6 billion by the end of this century. The number's validity may be disputed, but the goal is admirable. Could such a scenario possibly be envisioned, let alone implemented? It's that, he says, or a new wave of human colonisation - on other planets. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What if there were no more humans?,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)What would happen if humanity were to depart in one go from the Earth? How would the world manage without us? What would happen to the environment, our cities or fauna and flora?
One of the early sections in this book visits New York city and the team of men who are responsible for the never-ending pumping out of water from under the city, which constantly threatens to fill subways. The author then goes through the surprisingly rapid decline of the city. If you've ever stood in Manhattan gazing along the straight avenues and streets, and were amazed at the scale of construction, then this section will chill you right through. Later in the book, the author desctribes an abandoned seaside town in Cyrpus and it's decline in decrepitude.
A common thread thoughout the book concerns our effect on the environment and how long it would take for the Earth to correct itself if we were to depart. What about the ozone-damaging chemicals we pump out into the atmosphere, or the heavy metals and radioactive materials we dump and store without regard for future generations. The U.S. has silos of chock-full radioactive materials, surrounded by hundreds of warning signs. Due to the fact that human languages can mutate beyond recognition over just a few hundred years, the warning signs had to be desinged to be comprehensible to anyone who came across them. The author visits oil-refining facilities in Texas to examine what would happen there should humans suddenly stop running these facilities. A trip to Chernobyl is used to illustrate what could happen in the aftermath of a nuclear containment failure.
By examining the rise of humanity from the depths of Africa, the author looks for the most suitable candidate to suceed us once we depart. The sudden departure of megafauna from the Earth is examined and is attributed to the increasing ability of Homo Sapiens to hunt. From a research facility in England, we learn how farmland will handle the fertilisers and chemicals we have left behind, and how eventually, trees will once again cover the land.
The author has gathered together so many areas of science in this book. However, due to skillful mixing of the strands, we never suffer from fatigue. He admits that the sudden departure of humans from the planet is fantasy, but the science and research he has gathered is rock-solid, and often chilling. Weisman portrays the sheer disregard humanity has for its home and its other inhabitants, yet his book also reveals the immense capacity of the Earth to heal itself. This book lingers in the mind long after you have finished reading it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea, disappointing execution,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)Other reviewers have already described in some detail the author's shortcomings, so I won't cover the same ground again. Overall, a fascinating idea but poorly presented; I found the amount of time the author spent talking about the people he consulted with particular irritating and I found that apart from a couple of interesting chapters it was actually quite boring and uninformative.
Just my personal opinion, of course. :-)
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous modern memento mori,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)Reflections on the impermanence of man's creations and corporeal form have long been part of both Christian and Buddhist tradition as antidotes to human hubris. Weisman's very modern mortality tale however serves not God or enlightenment, but the Earth itself. What would happen in the unlikely event that everyone on the planet simply disappeared? What would the legacy of our species be in terms of our buildings and cultures? Would the natural environment simply take over again, or have we done irreparable damage to our planet? The fascinating television programme based on this book focused on the GCI-enhanced mouldering of our monuments and gradual crumbling of our cities. The book however is much more ambitious in its scope, addressing the far-reaching effect of Homo sapiens on our environment since we first stood upright on the African plains a relatively (in geological terms at least) short time ago. Weisman skilfully and entertainingly constructs this complex story with evidence from geology, archaeology, anthropology, physics, chemistry and the environmental sciences. It is a brilliantly-written tale of a planet both seriously ravaged but strangely resistant. Very few of our creations would actually survive our departure except our nuclear and toxic waste and, just as alarmingly, microscopic fragments of almost all the plastic we have ever produced (...even the plastic from toys we played with as children is apparently still out there somewhere). But, according to Weiseman, a planet that recovered from the Permian extinction 250 million years ago when 95% of everything alive was wiped up can surely survive a bunch of rather nasty Johnny-come-lately primates. Maybe a memento mori, a reminder of man's mortality, is indeed spiritually uplifting as Wiseman ends not with a gloomy prognosis (although he presents ample evidence to justify such a conclusion) but on an almost mystical and rather hopeful note.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most insightful views of a world where humans themselves play no part - only their legacy is of essence,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)Alan Weisman's international bestseller The World Without Us has been widely acclaimed for its ability to carry its readers on a journey described by the Independent as `Flesh-creepingly good fun...an expert-led fantasia of the post human planet''. But pick up the book, absorb its contents and you will realize that the Independent was being modest in their appraisal of Weisman's love of detail. Detail, which if taken time to digest, will lead you to an epiphany. Here is a world, where the very last human on Earth is no more. `Look around you, at today's world' writes Weisman. `Your house, your city. The surrounding land, the pavement underneath, and the soil hidden below that. Leave it all in place but extract the human beings. Wipe us out and see what's left''.
This thought- provoking scenario compels the reader to follow Weisman's string of consciousness which attempts to answer two fundamental questions. Would nature be forever impaired by our destructive practices or would it simply heal itself back to its pristine, pre-human state? Perhaps the only hint that once, we humans were, like many other species whose ancient skeletal frames are now carefully preserved in history museums across the globe, just transient guests in nature's abode. Perhaps the trace of our former presence embedded only in the faint glow of a surface scar, littered with thick cast iron and chromium alloys. But whilst such a prospect is bound to make readers fidget on their sofas uncomfortably, they're also given a light hearted image of fire hydrants, casually sprouting amidst cacti as one of the few remaining signs of `Earthly humanity'.
Weisman predicts how other forms of life would adapt without the presence of humans by giving as prime example natural reserves and sanctuaries where human intervention has been minimal. Such places include Białowieża Forest, the Kingman Reef, and the Palmyra Atoll. He also approaches important figures, some of them like biologist E. O. Wilson in an attempt to foresee the return of native plants by looking into the spread of pre historic vegetation. In Weisman's view, megafauna would flourish whilst animals which constitute urban pests such as rats would die off from a lack of a continual supply of food that is plentiful in today's modern cities.
The author uses the city of New York as an example of how nature would take over in almost no time, even over a developed urban area such as modern day New York. Weisman foresees how New York's roads will cave in as a result of underground streams flooding subway corridors and how native fauna and flora would slowly take over and out survive the invasive exotic species once brought forth by explorers insistent on diversifying the city's vegetation.
But Weisman also looks at the suburban world, and assesses the impact of nature on abandoned middle class, residential homes. Yet again, the eroding power of water will damage the existent wood frames and rusting the metals to the point of collapse. 500 years later and all that'll remain out of a house once booming with human activity are dishwasher parts, stainless steel cookware and plastic handles that stubbornly persist in becoming part of our 21st century legacy.
And yet, Weisman does not entirely embrace the notion that the world as a human construct is all doom and gloom. He delves into matters deep, as for instance when he raises the question of the legacy humans will have left behind and strives to reach a verdict in humanity's defence. Perhaps our impact on the natural environment and the planet as a whole has not been as detrimental, as it has changed the face of a planet, where someday our ancestral monuments will tell our story to an entirely new, and altogether different inhabitants.
33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What an interesting idea and book,
Weisman does not explain how every single Human man, woman and child has gone but they all have, leaving the world and its cities empty except for flora, fauna, wildlife, etc. and then explains how the world would cope, adapt etc to our absence.
Perhaps not surprisingly the World seems better off when it loses 6 billion people, lol! And Wildlife soon feels a difference, for example the Lions and Leopards have no serious predators and lots of unguarded cattle, sheep and goats to hunt so its boom time for them and a similar story for the African elephants as no one is hunting them for their ivory anymore and no more culls.
it seems also that little will be left of us after a few generations, metal objects like cars will rust away, grass and trees will take over farmlands, gardens, parks and even roads. Most of todays housing without maintenance will be badly damaged after a few winters blowing in windows, taking off roofs, plus of course flood damage. What would survive is many of the ancient objects like the Pyramids which have been around several thousands years already, large cathedrals and surprisingly the Channel Tunnel, little else though!
maybe something would evolve to fill the gap our absence creates and use some of the left behind tools or equipment. The writer agrgues that maybe baboons would start to evolve in this way.
Its an interesting book.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and disturbing,
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Hath People Wrought?,
Mr. Weisman looked across the globe for places where humans have left to see practical examples of what remains. Newer houses and modern buildings soon collapse, leaving behind only the metal and plastic as mementos. Buildings made of stone will, however, last a long time. Manhattan's surface will sink as water floods subway tunnels while filled-in swamps are refilled. Large predators will grow in numbers while pests that depend on us and our garbage like head lice and rats will do poorly. Domestic animals and plants will soon be wiped out. Nuclear plants will soon be spewing radioactive vapor into the atmosphere while leaving behind in-ground radioactivity for tens of thousands of years. The Panama Canal will soon cease to be a barrier to animal migrations between North and South America. Huge forests will reappear.
I don't want to share too many of the answers (or you won't want to read the book), but there are some pretty powerful ironies about what the most lasting aspects of human existence will be. It's worth reading the book just to find that out.
In the process, you'll learn a lot about the mass extinction that is occurring among species that are vulnerable to human influences.
If we look at what the Earth would be like without us, I suspect we'll all change how we behave every day. It's a cautionary lesson that all should heed.
I liked the way the book was organized. Most of the observations are built from specific locales and interviews with those who best know the science involved. I came away with several ideas of places I would like to visit that would never have occurred to me otherwise.
Those who don't want to read a book about how the environment is being damaged will find this book annoying because that secondary message is deeply embedded in the primary message.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most thought provoking books I've ever read,
This review is from: The World Without Us (Paperback)This started with an interesting premise - what would happen to the Earth if humans suddenly disappeared - and leads the reader down a fascinating labyrinth of subjects. How would our buildings and bridges disintegrate? What would happen to nuclear reactors? How would other animals evolve? What evidence of humanity would last the longest? What could cause such a sudden extinction? And what can we do about it?
The answers to all these questions are well researched and well written. One can't help dwelling on the impact humanity has had on our planet (is still having!) and our failure as a species to do something about it. It's certainly made me see China's one child per family policy in a different light - and I've got two children.
All in all, a fantastic, engaging, enlightening and informative read. Top notch.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (Paperback - 3 April 2008)