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on 8 October 2009
In recent years there have been a number of books and TV programmes (not to mention the movie 'I Am Legend' with Will Smith) about an Earth from which humans have been somehow removed. Most of them have titles like 'Earth Without People' or 'Life After People'. This book will probably find a limited readership because its title suggest a similar scenario. And that is a pity, because the content is actually much more important, and it deserves to reach a much wider audience than it will at present. We've all heard of how sea turtles die because they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them. But have you heard of the North Pacific Gyre, an area the size of a small continent, covered with floating refuse - bottles, tangles of fish nets and monofilament line, six-pack rings, Cling film, deflated balloons. . . And have you heard of 'nurdles'? I hadn't, until I read this book. Plastics, in particular, are a huge problem and threat to marine life - and ultimately to us. Such matters cry out for much greater exposure, but they will be lost to many because of this book's title. Yes, the author does touch upon what would happen if we all somehow miraculously vanished, and these sections make interesting reading. But generally this is used for a vehicle to bring up serious ecological issues that concern us TODAY, and it is a pity that all politicians can't be made to read it!

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.
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on 8 October 2009
In recent years there have been a number of books and TV programmes (not to mention the movie 'I Am Legend' with Will Smith) about an Earth from which humans have been removed. Most of them have titles like 'Earth Without People' or 'Life After People'. This book will probably find a limited readership because its title suggest a similar scenario. And that is a pity, because the content is actually much more important, and it deserves to reach a much wider audience than it will at present. We've all heard of how sea turtles die because they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and ingest them. But have you heard of the North Pacific Gyre, an area the size of a small continent, covered with floating refuse - bottles, tangles of fish nets and monofilament line, six-pack rings, Cling film, deflated balloons. . . And have you heard of 'nurdles'? I hadn't, until I read this book. Plastics, in particular, are a huge problem and threat to marine life - and ultimately to us. Such matters cry out for much greater exposure, but they will be lost to many because of this book's title. Yes, the author does touch upon what would happen if we all somehow miraculously vanished, and these sections make interesting reading. But generally this is used for a vehicle to bring up serious ecological issues that concern us TODAY, and it is a pity that all politicians can't be made to read it!

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.
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VINE VOICEon 20 April 2009
I can't remember where I heard about this book, but as soon as I did I pre-ordered it and eagerly awaited its arrival.

On arrival I immediately got down to reading it and was impressed by the vast majority of the chapters. I was amazed at just how quickly structures that seem as if they would last for an eternity, such as New York City, would succumb to such things as water and temperature. I was also amazed to read just how much our continuing existence on this planet is about our constant battle to subdue nature and that after we have gone nature will quickly take back what it has lost with little sign of our existence in as little as a few hundred years.

On reading this book I was not only amazed at our constant battle with nature, but also at how much humankind is affecting the environment. I like all others who read am aware of such things as global warming, CFCs, Carbon Sequestration etc, all of which are mentioned in this book. But, I was until reading this book sitting blissfully unaware of plastics and little things like exfoliates, being such as issue. It had never occurred to me that long after we are gone there will be a layer of plastics and exfoliates sitting in between layers on sandstone in the rock - a weird quirk in the principle of superposition.

There was however, a few chapters that did not interest me in the slightest. These chapters talked about ecology in a detached, academic sense. Whilst ecology interests me and I was intrigued to know how quickly some species would re-establish themselves in environments that they have been hunted out of when the authors uses paleontological and paloeclimatic references then it looses me because it becomes too academic and dry for a popular science book.

Overall, this book is very good and amazed me more than it bored me. The only disappointment is when it became a bit too academic and dry when talking about all things ecological.
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"Worldwide, every four days human population rises by 1 million." - Author Alan Weisman in THE WORLD WITHOUT US

But, what if the Earth's humans disappeared? This is the theme of THE WORLD WITHOUT US, a book version of what you may have seen on Life After People [2008] (REGION 1) (NTSC) or National Geographic: Aftermath - Population Zero [2008] (REGION 1) (NTSC).

Weisman approaches his subject from two perspectives; what the Earth might have looked like had humans not evolved, and what would likely happen to the world and, more specifically, human creations, if we were to suddenly blink out of existence because of, say, a massive, species-ending plague. To illustrate the former is more difficult as Homo sapiens is so ubiquitous across the planet, but the author points to the Bialowieza Puszcza forest on Poland's eastern border and Chambura Gorge in Uganda as roughly representative sites. To illustrate the latter is much easier as one only has to look as far as Pripyat, abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, unoccupied Varosha on Cyprus isolated between the Turkish and Greek zones, the depopulated DMZ between North and South Korea, or New England's temperate forest, now larger than it was in 1776 due to a depopulation trend after the Civil War.

Weisman was perhaps at his most interesting when describing what would happen to humankind's creations in its absence. Almost charming, especially to a Los Angeles area resident such as myself, is the narrative picture of the dissolution of New York City infrastructure as vegetation and wildlife reclaim the environment; gee, what a pity. On the other hand, the demise of oil refinery complexes and nuclear power stations has apocalyptic potential. Regarding the huge refinery complex in Texas City, TX:

"With no one to monitor controls or the computers, some reactions would run away and go boom. You would get a fire, and then a domino effect, since there'd be nothing to stop it ... All the pipes would be conduits for fires ... That blaze could possibly go for weeks ... If this happened to every plant in the world, imagine the amount of pollutants ... They would also release chlorinated compounds like dioxins and furans from burning plastics. And you'd get lead, chromium and mercury attached to the soot ... the clouds would disperse through the world. The next generation of plants and animals, the ones that didn't die, might need to mutate in ways that could impact evolution."

Of course, the book's subject matter opens the way for a discussion of the durable poisons that humans have injected into the environment and which will persist with us or without us: waste from nuclear generating plants, plastic polymers of all sorts, polychlorinated biphenyls, phosphate and nitrate fertilizers, and fluorocarbons. It's enough to make Al Gore weep, or at least go on the stump selling carbon offsets.

And what are the chances that every last member of the human race might cease to exist? Very slim in the relative short term as there are survivors of even the most virulent and infectious disease agents. But past human societies have achieved near extinction. Consider the Mayans, for example, whose culture dominated Central America for 1600 years before virtually vanishing in the eighth century AD for reasons not yet completely understood.

Perhaps the most imaginatively stimulating subtopic concerns the evidence of our existence that extraterrestrials at large might stumble across. The author makes reference to the "I Love Lucy" television shows that have been beaming to the stars for years and will reach the edge of our galaxy in 2450 AD. And then there's the Golden Record, a gold-plated copper analog disc on which are recorded both sounds and images of the Human Race, carried on both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft as they speed away from the Solar System.

While THE WORLD WITHOUT US seemed slightly disorganized, and the few photos included highlighted the fact that more would have added value to the whole, it was throughout both thought-provoking and instructive. And though the phrase "built to last" has no meaning whatsoever on the cosmic scale, I certainly won't be tempted to toss my empty water bottle out the window the next time I drive through a national park.
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VINE VOICEon 27 October 2010
What would happen to the planet and the animals that inhabit it if every human were to disappear overnight?

How long would our cities, monuments and achievements last and what, if any, and for how long would there be any evidence left behind to say that we were ever here? Would the world and the creatures left behind be the better for our demise and for how long would our toxic legacy reach back from beyond the grave to continue to inflict havoc on the planet.

In this book, the author addresses this particular thought experiment and takes us on a tour of the globe to examine what the consequences of our demise might be. From New York, constantly battling to control the flow of the forty or so streams that it was built on, to Cyprus where the abandonded resort of Varosha falls victim to the relentless encroachment of nature. From Chernobyl, where the impact of the disastrous accident on the returning wildlife is still yet to be determined, to the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a region of the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas that has accumulated an amount of floating garbage that surpasses comprehension.

In the main, I enjoyed this book, even if it is a depressingly familiar indictement of our disastrous stewardship of the planet. It is nonetheless a well researched and highly readable account of how the world might fare without us.
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on 24 January 2010
There already seems plenty of description reviews, so i'll just add my personal opinions on the book:
The book is truly addictive. An enthralling read for those knowledgeable in the subject and those new to it. Alan Weisman has written a book that flows so well and is truly accessible to anyone with an interest. It is a joy to read and opens up new areas of interest, really making the reader think. It encourages us to take a realistic look at both how insignificant our creations really are, and now much of a lasting impact some will make. The World Without Us is a truly wonderful book that I would recommend everyone to read, whatever their point in life. A grand thought experiment indeed, and one that will open the eyes of many...
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on 17 December 2008
What happens to cities when mankind declines or disappears is a question which has been explored in fiction, most notably in After London by Richard Jefferies and, more recently, in the Great Before by Ross Clark. The World Without Us is drier and more academic, but rich in detail: among the first creatures to disappear are those we consider the greatest pests, such as cockroaches -- their undoing being that they have come to depend on human environments. Unlike the Great Before there is no story to keep you turning the pages, and fails to satisfy the reader in one respect: no explanation is given for mankind's Marie Celeste-like disappearance. But perhaps that would be a distraction from what is skilful and direct work.
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on 29 May 2009
I bought this book after seeing it mentioned in a copy of Men's Health and thought it sounded interesting. If you are reading this and think the book sounds mildly interesting yourself I'd invite you to do the same.
The book looks at various places on Earth, how they have changed over the ages, how they are likely to change in ages to come, and how we, as humans, have had an impact, and might continue to do so after we cease to exist. Some of the areas covered are the seas and their creatures, large land predators, the Texas oil community, English forests and the effects of humans and their domesticated pets on bird populations.

I did find it a little difficult to get into at first, possibly having just finished reading a completely different book (World War Z, Max Brooks), but as more topics were covered I found myself itching to find out more and more. You'll probably learn quite a bit from this book, but it is ultimately light enough to read as a beach book on your summer holiday too.
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on 1 June 2009
I found "World Without Us" very informative and well writen book.
It makes you understand how much human kind have made their mark on this planet by taking over everything and adapting for our exclusive use ignoring the rest of the species we share our fragile planet.
The author of this book has excellent style in which he has presented his work and made it all too interesting from beginning to end.
I could not put down this book once I started reading it and found some informative facts I wasn't aware of before.
In a summary, this book should be read by all and kept as reference on ones book shelf.
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on 30 July 2008
I had high hopes for this book when I bought it. The premise is fascinating and I expected an insightful look at what would remain of human civilisation in 100, 1000 and even 10,000 years. Unfortunately this book ended up written as a loosely linked set of anecdotes in the style of a travel book.

There are some interesting issues covered, such as long term storage of radioactive materials. Whereas this would have been a good opportunity to deal at some length with the subject of how to warn future generations of danger (the evolution of language and symbols and the fall of civilisation seem quite appropriate in this context) the subject is dismissed in a couple of paragraphs. The one aspect of our civilization almost guaranteed to endure longer than any other, our space probes and our satellites, are given far less space than they deserve too - just a half a dozen pages. The author could quite easily have spent more time of describing how to deliberately make things last, a sort of message to the future, but that chance has been missed. When the book ventures into the territory of technology and transhumanists the author gives the impression of having no clue of the technical issues or even the arguments about the issue of consciousness and immortality.

This book comes across as more of an environmentalist crusade than about the legacy of civilisation, particularly the positive side of that. You get the impression that Weisman just wanted to concentrate on his pet areas in this book, rather than doing the in-depth and complete job that the title deserved. It's a book that I'm glad that I read, but it was a frustrating experience rather than an enjoyable one.
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