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The World Without Us

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A penetrating, page-turning tour of a post-human Earth

In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman offers an utterly original approach to questions of humanity's impact on the planet: he asks us to envision our Earth, without us. In this far-reaching narrative, Weisman explains how our massive infrastructure would collapse and finally vanish without human presence; which everyday items may become immortalized as fossils; how copper pipes and wiring would be crushed into mere seams of reddish rock; why some of our earliest buildings might be the last architecture left; and how plastic, bronze sculpture, radio waves, and some man-made molecules may be our most lasting gifts to the universe.

The World Without Us reveals how, just days after humans disappear, floods in New York's subways would start eroding the city's foundations, and how, as the world's cities crumble, asphalt jungles would give way to real ones. It describes the distinct ways that organic and chemically treated farms would revert to wild, how billions more birds would flourish, and how cockroaches in unheated cities would perish without us. Drawing on the expertise of engineers, atmospheric scientists, art conservators, zoologists, oil refiners, marine biologists, astrophysicists, religious leaders from rabbis to the Dalai Lama, and paleontologists—who describe a prehuman world inhabited by megafauna like giant sloths that stood taller than mammoths—Weisman illustrates what the planet might be like today, if not for us.

From places already devoid of humans (a last fragment of primeval European forest; the Korean DMZ; Chernobyl), Weisman reveals Earth's tremendous capacity for self-healing. As he shows which human devastations are indelible, and which examples of our highest art and culture would endure longest, Weisman's narrative ultimately drives toward a radical but persuasive solution that needn't depend on our demise. It is narrative nonfiction at its finest, and in posing an irresistible concept with both gravity and a highly readable touch, it looks deeply at our effects on the planet in a way that no other book has.

324 pages, Hardcover

First published July 10, 2007

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About the author

Alan Weisman

24 books503 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Alan Weisman's reports from around the world have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Orion, Wilson Quarterly, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, Audubon, Condé Nast Traveler, and in many anthologies, including Best American Science Writing 2006. His most recent book, The World Without Us, a bestseller translated into 30 languages, was named the Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 by both Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, the #1 Nonfiction Audiobook of 2007 by iTunes; a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction, for the Orion Prize, and a Book Sense 2008 Honor Book. His previous books include An Echo In My Blood; Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World (10th anniversary edition available from Chelsea Green); and La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico. He has also written the introduction for The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hanh, available this fall from Parallax Press. A senior producer for Homelands Productions, Weisman’s documentaries have aired on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media. Each spring, he leads an annual field program in international journalism at the University of Arizona, where is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies. He and his wife, sculptor Beckie Kravetz, live in western Massachusetts.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,836 reviews
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,233 followers
February 13, 2012
If you are like me “The World Without Us” will cause you want to do one of two things.

A: Find a remote wilderness and build a cabin. Add a few chickens, goats, cows ect. and live off the land with as much peace of mind you can muster until man destroys the planet. Or

B. Say "AWWW F**K IT", and put all regular, old fashioned light bulbs in all your lamps and turn them on. Leave your house, with the air conditioner running, get in your Hummer, and drive across the country…..just because you can. Eat as much factory farmed meat as you can stand on the way…..’cause you are crazy like that!

Steal a truck loaded with nuclear waste and drive it Thelma and Louise style into the Grand Canyon, committing a spectacular environmental suicide.

I feel better now.

This book is a very good book, but it is a tad, well, depressing. I recommend it because (not only do I want to drag you down with me) of its important information. We all need to be informed.

The World Without Us examines what the earth would be like if man were to just disappear. How long would it take the earth to rid itself of all traces of us? Turns out not very long geologically, but bronze statues and Barbie and Ken in the landfill will stand the test of time.

One point the author makes, our problems (well most of them) could be fixed, or greatly improved, if all women of child bearing age would agree to have just one child. I don’t see this happening but, I do think maybe we should stop glorifying women who have litters of children.

That would be a start.

Profile Image for Mateo.
110 reviews22 followers
September 15, 2007
Yeah, what you've heard about this book is true: It really is very good, very scary, very depressing--AND it's written entirely in Spurdlish, a language I just made up that consists only of the letter 't'.

If it only enabled fire ants to slowly liquify Dick Cheney, it would be perfect.

Okay, I'm kidding about the Spurdlish, but, yeah, great book. Weisman doesn't just speculate on what happens to your house or the NYC subways or the pyramids once we've all been raptured off to Heaven. (Hint: That expensive kitchen remodel you did? Hopefully it's in a color that raptors enjoy.) The book is really about what we're doing to the planet, and how long our nefarious activities will outlast us. The news is both good and bad: nature tends to adapt to just about anything--think wildflowers blooming in Chernobyl--but there are still some future scenarios that are pretty hellish. Yes. More hellish than Boca Raton, Florida. Between the PCBs, the fluorocarbons, the dioxins, the plutonium, the global warming, and those uncounted zillions of plastic microparticles now gutting everything from krill to blue whales, the planet's in for a rough ride for a while, even if aliens appear in the skies tomorrow and suck us up through the galaxy's biggest straw.

Weisman writes quite well and the panoply of places he visits is worth the price of admission: reserves in Kenya, the Korean DMZ, the Panama Canal, the American Southwest, Turkish caves, Pacific atolls, etc., etc. I'm glad someone could write about them before they're swallowed up in Pepsi bottles and plastic bags.

It's tempting, when reading the book, to take the long view of things, that the Earth endures and that if we disappear from our own foolishness, it's no great loss. In fact, it's hard to escape the conclusion that we deserve extinction for all that we're doing. And yet that seems to me to be both simplistic and disingenuous. For all the evil we've done through our greed, our cruelty, and our shortsightedness, we have produced some real marvels, whether it's the Parthenon or a newborn child. We are a remarkable species, perhaps unreplaceable, and it will be a loss to the biosphere when we go. Of course, in the end all things must pass, as some Liverpool philosopher once put it, but the end is not yet here and there's still much to enjoy. (Do those who wish an end to humanity really believe what they say? Who amongst them is willing to commit suicide for the sake of a better planet?) Let's hope that we gain the wisdom to enjoy it all, and preserve it for a better future.

Profile Image for brian   .
248 reviews3,120 followers
May 8, 2012
the world without us... would be a better place. well, not for the dogs. they'd die out pretty quickly. and since dogs are the greatest things on the planet, it gives one pause. but, no. the badness of all the bad shit we've done outweighs even the goodness of the dogs. the kanamits aren't gonna 'serve us' anytime soon, a virus probably couldn't take everyone out, war certainly won't... so here are two options:

1) we simply stop procreating and peacefully die off, leaving behind a near (not total. remember the dog situation) paradise.


2. we commit to the 'four pillars' of the church of euthanasia: suicide, abortion, cannibalism, sodomy.


these are some of my favorite people on the planet.

1. i'm pro-abortion.
2. i'm vegetarian -- but could be convinced to eat a human way before a sweet, gentle cow or pig.
3. i'm pro-sodomy.
4. i don't really wanna kill myself. but i have no problem if you want to. in fact, you should. everyone should kill themselves except for me. and rosario dawson. we'd live out our lives with each other and the dogs. it'd be me, rosario, and five millions dogs traveling the globe, swimming in lakes climbing trees, rolling around on grassy fields... at night the dogs would ball up together and create the world's largest and warmest mattress for me & my girl. and then, after a few decades, we'd all run indian-chasing-bison-style off a cliff.

Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book936 followers
April 24, 2020
This is a worldwide documentary book, in the fashion of Jacques Cousteau, or more recently a few BBC programs. The inciting question is a bit strange: what would happen, should the whole of the human race suddenly vanish from the face of the Earth? Of course, even if entire populations could be decimated by war or natural catastrophes, an utter extinction of the human race is a highly improbable event. Yet, this odd hypothesis is a way of exploring how much humanity’s footprint has changed and is still changing this planet, and reflect on the possible legacy of our current global civilisation.

Weisman, a journalist and nonfiction writer, investigates different aspects of this question. He starts off pointing out how much human beings since they left their African cradle, have changed their environment. One illustration being the mass animal extinctions, due to human development, that have already taken place since prehistorical times (e.g. the giant proboscideans of the Holocene). These extinctions have been going on, presumably at an ever-increasing pace, up to the present time. But if human beings disappeared, what would happen in the immediate aftermath or in the farthest future? What would become of our houses, our sometimes massive megalopolis? What would become of the unfathomable amount of waste (mainly plastic waste) that we are continually dumping into the soil and the ocean? What would become of our highly hazardous petrochemical and nuclear facilities? What would become of our most significant achievements to transform the environment? What would become of the climate of our planet, that (despite the outrageous and deceitful denial of some politicians in recent times) we are contributing to change in radical ways? What will become of our intellectual and artistic legacy?

Weisman has travelled the world to find some answers, from New-York to the Panama Canal, from Korea to Cyprus and from Houston to the atolls of the Pacific Ocean, and overall his research is well documented albeit easy to read. What I take away from this book is that, should we suddenly depart, we would leave the Earth in a pretty disastrous state. But in time, perhaps a very long time (possibly millions of years), wild nature would wipe away almost all memory of our presence on this planet. The hitch is that, for now, we are still around and more and more so: what calamity we might well leave behind will sadly be for our descendants to live or die with and, hopefully, mend. It seems Weisman's more recent book advocates some form of demographic decline, as a solution to this massive issue…
Profile Image for Marcus.
52 reviews
June 16, 2008
I enjoyed the premise, but the execution was a snoozer. I'm not sure if it was the author's soporific style, or that I was let down by his overly repetitive rundown on floral succession: "asparagus and trumpet vine take hold as dingleberries and snorfle-weed provide shade..." Over and over; it felt like the author was attempting to display the fact that he did thorough investigation with environmental biologists and was flexing his bio street cred, After the first 4 times, the remaining 18 were overkill.

I did learn that there's a voluntary human extinction movement, something I found interesting and hadn't heard of before. Of course, he only devoted 1 paragraph of the book to something that was actually novel and interesting. I also enjoyed the exploration of human works in a human-less scenario (what would happen to subways, oil wells, nuclear power plants, statues, domestic farms, dams, etc.) but felt that the author took few risks.

For example, he might have investigated what the probabilities were for a human extinction scenario. I understand that that may not have been crucial to his discussion of a world already without humans, but without discussing what would bring about that scenario, the book is little more than one of those semi-drunk, "what-if" imagination games you play while sitting at a bar. "If you were trapped on a deserted island . . ."

To say the book ended with a whimper would be an understatement. It felt like he was just tired of writing, or that his editor said he needed to put the thing to bed. Either way, it was mildly entertaining and mildly educational, meaning it was also mildly a waste of time.
Profile Image for Colin Miller.
Author 3 books29 followers
November 28, 2008
In The World Without Us, Alan Weisman attempts to answer the question of what would happen to the earth if, for whatever reason, humans were to completely disappear tomorrow. While it’s a fascinating premise, one that Weisman undoubtedly put a lot of time and effort into, the execution falters. Inevitably, it’s hard to stretch what was initially a short essay into a full book, but that’s how The World Without Us got going. Structurally, the book is broken down into four parts with chapters discussing what would happen to the earth, both in the manmade and in what man has altered in nature, including cities, power plants, nukes, art, farmland, bacteria, animals and creatures of the ocean.

In reading this book it’s clear that Weisman realized that, a) that it’s strange to read a book without any people; and b) in order to predict the future, you must delve into the past. As a result of this, The World Without Us is more about history than the future. Weisman interviews a number of people from all walks of life/viewpoints and there’s a fat bibliography at the end. He strives for accuracy in his predictions, even though it’s based on what we currently know. It’s like when you see a science fiction movie: all the future computers are still based on the technology we have available now. Though Weisman succeeds in not being preachy, the theories he presents are still debatable. There are a few areas I’d argue with him and since time has gone by since publication, recent history is contending to debate with his theories, too. In certain parts though, as with the section on Galveston, TX (hit with a massive hurricane in 1900, then again in 2008, a year after the book was published), Weisman’s assertions remain true.

So what’s the problem then? The World Without Us has a great premise, is well researched and historically accurate (depending on who you ask today), but it’s not all that interesting. It seems like Alan Weisman realized it, too, as the hook chapters to each part are far more interesting than the remainder of each section (save the terse final part which is fairly solid throughout). You get drawn in by a few fascinating chapters, then you have to wade through the meandering text until the next hook spikes interest. I’d find my mind wandering, wishing it were more of dystopian fiction based on environmentalism. Maybe that means I should just stay away from nonfiction science books where inevitably, after enough time has gone by and enough new data has popped up, it’ll be laughed off the shelf. Two stars. Barely.

Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,853 followers
October 15, 2018
Detailed journey into an again very nature-bound, deserted future

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

A bonanza of ideas for science fiction and downscale world scenarios that describes the various aspects of the tooth of the time following a fictional extinction of humans.
The explanation begins with the immediate knock-on effects after day X, with incoming indoor plants and water-rich mines and infrastructures such as subways being among the first concomitants before the emergency generators in all the facilities necessary for the maintenance of a western industrialized society run out of fuel and all formerly regulated processes become independent. After all highly reactive and dangerous operations have come to a spectacular end, a decay of relatively inferior constructed infrastructure begins, as compared to the buildings of antiquity and the Middle Ages were built of natural materials. Do not even consider reinforced concrete, which actually implies the name. One of the crucial factors here is the penetration of water after rotting roofs, which significantly increases the speed of disassembly. At the same time, to the slow disappearance and decay of all civilizing achievements, nature enters the scene and conquers both once their entranced areas back and, at the same time, actively participates in advance of the decay. In this case, plants are involved in the fouling of vegetation and the immense power of their roots, as well as microorganisms and, to a lesser extent, animals themselves.
In the broadest sense, the description of late revenge of sentient beings, which could save themselves from the extinction of their species by man and now fervently help to erase the last evidence of its existence from the face of the earth. And in a relatively short time, after a few hundred or even a few thousand years, nothing remains of the grandiose structures of the former crown of creation. The long-term greetings of people to the future in the form of industrial plants and nuclear power plants are also explained, and the aspect of highly dangerous effects of malfunctions and the resulting masses of GAUs in massive industrial complexes is one of the most remarkable ideas of the work.
At such sites, accidents occurred despite human maintenance and control.The absence of all maintenance measures would result in widespread pollution of the environment within a short period of time. Even secure and well-protected sites, repositories and systems built with high-quality building materials would pay tribute to the passing of the years and at some point be damaged, rusted and thus time bombs.
What bothers me is the lack of visible distinction between fiction, proven facts, and previously unconfirmed assumptions, which makes it difficult to judge the book's reading value. So it is difficult to recognize, which is the fantasy of Weisman or historically proven and observed by the example of extinct high cultures facts. Other authors solve this problem by incorporating fictive short stories clearly labeled as such, to illustrate these, or by referring to sources in individual thoughts and passages. Unfortunately, the various aspects are explained individually, but not at the end assembled into a single image of the respective levels of degeneracy, including all elements, which could have given a better and more vivid overview.
Besides, the extreme penchant for accurate explanation is sometimes lengthy and overweight concerning the actually eponymous book content. On the way to the downfall in all its stages has been explained many times fictional and including real factors. The description of the exact situation after the final decline in the distant future, the reader's actual expectation of the real-life world of animals and plants and other effects fall through the rust and take barely one-eighth on nearly 400 pages.
What a pity, as it would have made no difference due to the lack of differentiation between utopia and reality, even more, spread of the hoped-for by the relevant reading client future scenarios and present them in more detail and with the inclusion of facts on better footing foundation. Unfortunately, in otherwise excellent work, a lot of potentials is given away, a weighting in favor of less unnecessary detail and more promised content would have done very well.

Detaillierte Reise in eine wieder sehr naturverbundene, menschenleere Zukunft

Eine Goldgrube an Ideen für durch Science Fiction- und Weltuntergansszenarien affektierte Leser, die die verschiedensten Aspekte des Zahnes der Zeit nach einem fiktionalen Aussterben der Menschen beschreibt.
Die Erläuterung beginnt mit den unmittelbaren Folgewirkungen nach Tag X, wobei eingehende Zimmerpflanzen und mit Wasser vollaufende Bergwerke und Infrastrukturen wie U-Bahnen zu den ersten Begleiterscheinungen zählen, bevor den Notstromaggregaten in sämtlichen, für die Aufrechterhaltung einer westlichen Industriegesellschaft notwendigen Anlagen, der Treibstoff ausgeht und sich alle bisher regulierten Prozesse verselbstständigen. Nachdem sämtliche hochreaktiven und gefährlichen Vorgänge ein spektakuläres Ende gefunden haben, beginnt ein steter Zerfall von, im Vergleich zu den aus Naturmaterialien errichteten Bauwerken der Antike und des Mittelalters, verhältnismäßig minderwertig konstruierter Infrastruktur. Hält doch selbst Stahlbeton nicht, was der Name eigentlich impliziert. Einer der entscheidenden Faktoren hierbei ist das Eindringen des Wassers nach dem Verrotten der Dächer, durch die sich die Demontagegeschwindigkeit wesentlich erhöht. Gleichzeitig, zum langsamen Schwinden und Verfallen aller zivilisatorischen Errungenschaften, tritt die Natur auf den Plan und erobert sowohl einst ihr entrungene Gebiete zurück als auch gleichzeitig bei einem Voranschreiten des Verfalls tatkräftig mitzuwirken. Hierbei sind sowohl Pflanzen dank ihres für bereits angeschlagene Gebäude verheerenden Gewichts bei Bewuchs und der immensen Kraft ihrer Wurzeln, als auch Mikroorganismen und in geringem Ausmaß, Tiere selbst beteiligt. Im weitesten Sinn die Beschreibung einer späten Rache der Lebewesen, die sich vor der Auslöschung ihrer Art durch den Menschen retten konnten und nun voller Inbrunst helfen, die letzten Belege seiner Existenz vom Antlitz der Erde tilgen. Und in verhältnismäßig kurzer Zeit noch dazu, nach ein paar hundert bis paar tausend Jahren ist nicht mehr das Geringste übrig von den grandiosen Bauwerken der einstigen Krone der Schöpfung.
Auch die Langzeitgrüße der Menschen an die Zukunft in Form von Industrieanlagen und Atomkraftwerken werden erläutert und der Aspekt hochgradig gefährlicher Auswirkungen von Fehlfunktionen und daraus resultierenden, massenhaften GAUs in gigantischen Industriekomplexen zählt zu einer der bemerkenswertesten Ideen des Werks.
An solchen Stätten kam es trotz menschlicher Wartung und Kontrolle zu Unfällen
Ein Ausbleiben sämtlicher Instandhaltungsmaßnahmen würde innerhalb eines kurzen Zeitraums zur weitläufigen Verseuchung der Umwelt führen.
Selbst gesicherte und in gut geschützten Lagen errichtete Endlagerstätten, Depots und mit hochwertigen Baustoffen errichtete Systeme würden dem Voranschreiten der Jahre Tribut zollen und irgendwann beschädigt, verrostet und damit zu Zeitbomben werden.
Was stört, ist die fehlende sichtbare Unterscheidung von Fiktion, belegten Fakten und bisher unbestätigten Vermutungen, wodurch man bei der Beurteilung des Lehrwerts des Buches leider hart mit dem Autor ins Gericht gehen muss. So fällt es schwer zu erkennen, wobei es sich um die Fantasie Weismans oder um historisch belegte und am Beispiel untergegangener Hochkulturen beobachtete Tatsachen handelt. Andere Autoren lösen dies, indem sie als solche deutlich gekennzeichnete, fiktive Kurzgeschichten einbauen, um Thesen zu veranschaulichen, oder indem bei einzelnen Gedanken und Abschnitten mittels Fußnote auf Quellen verwiesen wird.
Leider werden die verschiedenen Aspekte zwar einzeln erläutert, aber nicht am Ende zu einem einheitlichen Bild der jeweiligen Degenerationsstufen unter Einbezug aller Aspekte zusammengefügt, was einen besseren und anschaulicheren Überblick hätte vermitteln können.
Daneben ist der extreme Hang zur minutiösen Erläuterung mitunter langatmig und auch im Verhältnis zu den eigentlich titelgebenden Buchinhalt übergewichtet. Denn der Weg in den Untergang in all seinen Stadien wurde schon vielfach fiktional und auch unter Einbeziehung realer Faktoren erläutert. Die Beschreibung der genauen Situation nach dem endgültigen Niedergang in ferner Zukunft, die eigentlich dem Leser suggerierte Erwartung auf die genauen Lebenswelten von Tieren und Pflanzen und andere Auswirkungen fallen durch den Rost und nehmen auf knapp 400 Seiten kaum ein Achtel ein. Was schade ist, da es aufgrund der mangelnden Differenzierung zwischen Utopie und Realität keinen Unterschied gemacht hätte, noch mehr der, von der einschlägigen Leseklientel erhofften Zukunftsszenarien auszubreiten und diese vor allem detaillierter und unter Einbeziehung von Fakten auf besser fußendem Fundament darzustellen. So wird leider in einem ansonsten feinen Werk viel Potential verschenkt, dem eine Gewichtung zugunsten weniger unnötiger Detailfülle und mehr versprochenem Inhalt sehr gut getan hätte.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
December 7, 2014
The Coda (last chapter) should probably be read first as it sums up the thrust of the book & it's not what the description & title suggest. It started out as billed, a look at what the world would look like if we disappeared, but devolved into a platform for an environmental rant with some snide political remarks thrown in. If it was a little better balanced & thorough or if it offered any solutions, I'd like it more since I'm a tree hugger, too. It's generally negative, though. He doesn't seem to like the human race much.

It was great that his examples are drawn from all around the world, but if this wasn't an audio book, I would have abandoned it by the half mark. Weisman obviously isn't a scientist, although he spent time with some fascinating ones in preparing this book. Too many of his statements are poorly phrased & his presentation shows far too much bias. I'm not a scientist either, but I knew enough about several topics to catch him & did a bit of research several other times his logic seemed strained. Both literally & figuratively, he often can't see the forest for the trees. Worse, he often doesn't try, but anyone with a modicum of curiosity will find a variety of interesting ideas to research more on their own.

He does a great job in showing that many of our large works are not as permanent as they seem. Most exist only because of continual, often massive maintenance. Perhaps the best example of this is the Panama Canal. He devotes a fair amount of space to discussing just how quickly the rain & jungle would wash it away. Unfortunately, the entire section is weakened by his snide outline of U.S. foreign policy, a topic he had no business addressing in this book, especially in such a cavalier fashion. It simply proved his bias.

Some of our changes to the environment are obvious & horrible, the best example being the ocean sinks & coral beds that are choked with plastics & other polymers. Some are invisible, but just as or more deadly, & will last practically forever, such as in the case of dioxins & PCBs. Others may make radical changes that will last for centuries, such as lime or other changes to the soil that change the order & types of regrowth, if we were to disappear. These he condemns without fully discussing how much the exact composition really matters from the larger perspective, though.

I'm no happier than he is about the extinction of the American Chestnut or Passenger Pigeon, but other species have taken their ecological niches, for better or worse. I doubt the squirrels are upset over having to eat more acorns & hickory nuts rather than chestnuts, though. Rock doves & starlings have filled in for the Passenger Pigeon, haven't they? If not, what is still out of balance? I wish he would have addressed this more fully, but much of it is guess work & he tended to just write it off as bad.

I was intrigued by his examples of how much man changed nature even before the Industrial Revolution. For instance, each wave of immigrants to the Americas has made huge changes. Clovis Man (first wave) may well be the cause of the extinction of the mega-mammals either through hunting or disease, a rather interesting parallel with our (fourth wave) immigration & its effects on the second & third wave immigrants (AKA Native Americans), although he only vaguely alludes to it. He also points out some other fallacies in our current perceptions about what 'natural' ecosystems were like over the ages. He didn't go into enough detail on some. For instance, it would have been nice if he had researched desertification a bit more. He points out the most obvious causes, but missed others. He especially missed all the efforts aimed at eradicating it which is far more instructive for a natural recovery.

Unfortunately, his agenda continually skews & limits his facts. For instance, his distaste for electrical generation disrupting the natural environment is obvious. Coal & nuclear plants are targeted many times over the course of the book. He never mentions what the alternatives are besides doing without, though. Hydro-electric dams & wind turbines are never mentioned at all, yet he spends a lot of time pointing out that radio & cell towers kill possibly a billion birds each year with their flashing red lights, electromagnetic radiation, & guy wires. Wind turbines combine not only all the hazards of the others, but add in spinning blades. Unlike the other towers where dead birds are usually quickly cleaned up by scavengers, wind turbines often have so many piled up that crews have to remove them. I can only conclude that he likes them because they're 'clean' energy & thus he again proves his bias.

Many of his opinions on the survival of species don't make sense to me. In the beginning he says our cattle, goats, horses, & dogs will probably die out once we are gone yet there are plenty of examples of all of these species going feral successfully. He doesn't mention pigs or sheep at all, but they are two of the most extreme examples. Feral hogs are notoriously capable & destructive (Now a real problem in my area.) while most sheep would die immediately. He does discuss the dangers of the common house cat to the environment, although they are in a different section, one dealing with his love of birds. (Toward the end he changed this somewhat & briefly mentioned pigs.)

So overall, I can't give this book the high rating some of the facts & research deserve. They're just too badly skewed. As food for thought, it has some points of interest, but most facts & every opinion should be taken with a large dose of salts. It's certainly not definitive, but could serve as a springboard for more thorough research on any topics of interest.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,538 followers
October 2, 2013
Well written and researched exploration of the premise of how the world would change if humans suddenly disappeared from the earth. This ostensible absurd premise turns out to be a very useful lens to view many important environmental and ecological issues.

Several chapters, such as those on plastics and nuclear waste, are distressing as their impacts are incalculably long lasting. The ones on how fast pockets of biodiversity might spread or how quickly highly stressed areas might recover are reassuring. Weisman gets a lot of help from an army of experts and does well to make the focus of each chapter come from the first person perspectives of relevant field or laboratory scientists.

The diverse riffs on urban sites include an abandoned city in the Turkish zone of Cyprus, which after a few decades appears to be disassembled surprisingly fast by the forces of nature. The virtual disappearance of great Mayan cities into the jungle is another fascinating example of the ephemeral quality of civilizations. The human-caused extinctions of so many species are obviously not reversible, but the fate of domestic animals, agricultural species, and alien species introduced far and wide make great subjects of his creative speculations from historical and evolutionary perspectives.

A consideration of what human-made structures will last the longest turns up some surprises. The Panama Canal apparently won't last long, but many structures made of stone, bronze, or ceramic will persist until crumbled by another ice age or tectonic folding. A nice coda to the book is a reflection on how the examples of human literature and music sent out of the solar system with the Voyager spacecraft will likely outlast the sun.

Update Weisman is back on the job pondering Earth's fate with a follow-up that puts people back into the picture. I look forward to reading his account of the challenge of overpopulation of our planet, published at the end of Sept. 2013:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17...Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
Profile Image for Jill Hutchinson.
1,480 reviews104 followers
October 18, 2018
This book is a tour de force of "what ifs" based on scientific facts mixed with scientific guesses. The premise is unusual.....what if humans suddenly were no longer on the earth. Not dead by plague, war, or natural disaster but simply disappearing tomorrow, leaving no bodies. But what humans leave behind will change the Earth as we know it, forever.

Environmentalist have been fighting battles to save the planet for years but the damage has partially been done. Huge whirlpools of garbage, miles wide, already dot both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the majority of the material in those floating garbage dumps is plastic based. The author gives quite a bit of information about what effect non-biodegradables will have on every thing from plant life to animal life (remember, only humans have disappeared).

The second huge consequence of human "progress" will be the nuclear missiles, power plants, and nuclear waste that remains with no one left to regulate it to prevent detonation. Humans have already gotten a bit of a taste as to what might happen based on the Chernobyl accident. Magnify it worldwide and it is beyond comprehension.

Animal life will continue but not in the form that we now recognize, as species struggle to adapt to changing weather patterns and availability of food sources.....reindeer in France and elephants in Russia are possible scenarios.

This book is not too scientific for the layman while still delving into scientific thought and theory. An engrossing look at what the human race may leave behind which is, to say the least, horrifying. Recommended.
Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
467 reviews100 followers
October 18, 2016
For a science duffer like me this was easy to read and I would recommend it. So us westerners have left depleted uranium with a half life of 4.5 billion years all over Iraq and expect them to like us? Ha! I had no idea of the ramifications of depleted uranium, heck the science side of this has passed me by. Stupid me. How could I have not given thought to armour piecing weaponry that leaves radiation traces of a half life of 4.5 billion years. Depending on who one wants to believe all that for either getting rid of weapons of mass destruction and/or getting hold of all that oil. Did I mention a half life of 4.5 billion years? Oh I did? Well according to this there is half a million tons of the stuff still lying around the US alone. Is it/was it worth it? Going to take a lot of convincing for this little black duck.

But lets not worry about that and look at all those nice buildings and monuments and various other man-made items that our species is so proud of. Once we are gone? They all go except maybe Mount Rushmore. That Panama Canal. Did I say that those weapons we have been using in the middle east leave radiation with a half life of 4.5 billion years? Oh yeah I did. Oh well at least a really nice ditch we have dug will fall over after only about 100 years if there is no one around to look after it and not long after no one will ever know of it's existence.

Yeah good book but pity about that last chapter and it's mystical electro magmatic brain wave stuff. I am sure the author meant well.
Profile Image for Shannon .
1,221 reviews2,213 followers
December 11, 2007
This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. I simply can't get over how fantastic, informative, well-written, and mind-opening it is. Wow, where do I start?

The book revolves around the hypothetical question: What would happen if all humans disappeared tomorrow? Would anything we created survive? Would anything miss us?

The short answer is: very little, not really. It's a blow to our ego perhaps, but true nevertheless. The only creatures who are dependent on us for survival are the miniscule mites that live on and in our bodies, eating our dead skin cells before we suffocate in them, and nasty bacterias.

This is not a doomsday book. It's actually playfully optimistic, and is more of a history and science lesson than a judgement on our sins. Though the evidence is plentiful that we are in fact killing the planet that sustains us.

Weisman covers everything from our leaky homes - describing in detail exactly how they would fall apart without our constant care - to the early years of home sapiens and our impact on wildlife; from art to nuclear power to the oceans. I learnt so much, my head is literally buzzing. Some of it is downright scary, but I'm not one to put my head in the sand and expect someone else to take care of it all.

If you're interested in history, science, environmentalism, impressing people at dinner parties with your knowledge or just plain interested: this is the book for you!
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,104 followers
October 12, 2013

I am disappointed that in spite of the tremendous scope, the book never manages to rise beyond the past and the present and truly explore its potential - that of imagining a post-human world, far into the future. Most of the book was about the world before humans and about how we have changed it. This was interesting and informative, but was not really the reason I started the book and was not what the dust jacket promised.

But, despite the shortcomings or rather the under delivery, it still manages simultaneously to be a celebration of our existence, a warning about our imminent departure, a swan song for humanity, a warning for a world on the brink and also an evocative and imaginative pointer on our place in this world. And for that, this book is worth reading.

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago.

If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.

~ E. O. Wilson
Profile Image for Carlos.
621 reviews292 followers
December 11, 2016
This book was very informative but a little bit naive in it approach. I don't think that humans are going anywhere in the near future so drawing conclusions from an scenario that will likely never happen seems a little bit masturbatory but at least among all the information in this book , there is some usefulness. It is also very good to gain knowledge about the fauna and flora that went extinct because of human involvement. And I was surprised by the conclusion of the book where it stated that the one solution that would work both for nature an humanity is to restrict all females in the world to just one offspring. A conclusion that while it would work pragmatically, I think it is at best a pipe dream .
Profile Image for Makmild.
518 reviews106 followers
July 26, 2021
ไม่สนุก แต่ ดีแบบ ดีมาก และเป็นหนังสือที่เขียนยาก แต่เก่งมากที่ทำให้เข้าใจได้ง่ายมาก

นั่นแหละ แต่มันไม่สนุก ซึ่งบางครั้ง ก็ไม่ต้องสนุกก็ได้เพราะหนังสือได้ทดแทนส่วนที่ไม่สนุก (ไม่สนุกคือ มันยากเกินกว่าที่เราจะคิดตามไหว หรือไม่ก็ไม่ได้สนใจขนาดนั้น) ด้วยข้อมูลที่หามาอย่างยากลำบาก ในเล่มนี้เราจะได้พบศาสตร์ต่างๆ มากมาย ทั้งสถาปัตย์ วิศวะ เคมี ดาราศาสตร์ ธรณีศาสตร์ ชีวะ ประวัติศาสตร์ ฯลฯ อัดแน่นในเล่มเดียว คนเขียนแม่งความรู้กว้างสัดๆ คือ ความรู้ไม่กว้าง แต่ก็คนรู้จักกว้างมากเพราะเอานักวิทย์เก่งๆมาอธิบายถึงความเป็นไปได้ที่ไม่น่าเป็นไปได้ อย่างเรื่องที่โลกไม่มีเราจะเป็นยังไง (ก็ตามชื่อหนังสือ)

ส่วนตัวชอบบทที่ 15 ที่ว่าด้วยเรื่องระเบิดต่างๆ เช่น การระเบิดโรงนิวเคลียร์ที่เชอร์โนบิลที่สุด รู้ตัวเลยว่ามนุษย์ดูเบากับสิ่งที่ตัวเองได้สรรสร้างขนาดไหน และธรรมชาติยิ่งใหญ่กว่ามากเป็นล้านเท่า

เป็นหนังสือที่เรียกได้ว่าผิดจากที่คาดหวัง (ไม่รู้เหมือนกันว่าคาดหวังอะไร แต่ไม่คิดว่าจะเจอการบรรยายที่เหมือนสารคดีขนาดนี้ อาจจะคิดว่ามันเบาและง่ายกว่านี้ละมั้ง) แต่ได้อะไรมากกว่าที่หวังเยอะมากๆ

เพราะงั้นนะทุกคน กลั้นใจอ่านมันเถอะ 55555555
Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,042 followers
August 22, 2017
The conception of this book was brilliant, but while writing, the author—or at least his editor—should have realized that the execution was muddled.

Imagine several of your favorite foods. Perhaps Kung Pao chicken, a spinach salad, blueberry pie, beer and peanuts, coffee and biscotti, shrimp etouffee. Very nice individually, some might be made even better with artful blending. Now toss them all in a big bowl and mix thoroughly. Appetizing?

Weisman’s title teases us with a singular view of human existence. Like me, you may have heard fascinating highlights regarding how quickly New York’s transit system would be flooded, or what combination of factors would take down a highrise. Or perhaps that our pets would suffer very different fates: our pet dogs would all be killed by real predators, whereas housecats would be successful by staying in the trees and preying on birds.

It is certainly true that almost every nugget here is intriguing—just as that goulash consists of individually tasty bits. But it doesn’t hold together, mostly because the author wasn’t able to firmly keep in mind what book he was writing.

The best parts are those that follow the title, such as the tales urban decay. How nature has taken hold of the DMZ in Korea is good; even better was the unexpected equivalent in Cyprus, where the description of suddenly abandoned buildings is haunting.

Some portions would better be described by the title The World We’ve Really Screwed Up. It is understandable, of course: while researching how things will be after we’re gone, the author must have done a great deal of research into how things got that way, and some of those stories are juicy. For example, Chernobyl’s history and the fate of the world’s other nuclear power plant is mostly treated as a tragedy waiting to happen. But at the same time, nature seems to be thriving amidst the radiation. While it is clear that we’ll leave behind plutonium wastes that will last forever, it isn’t at all clear to what extent nature would shrug this off as an irrelevancy.

A notable problem the book fails to address is hinted at in the words of Doug Erwin, when Weisman looks back at the geological record. Displaying a chunk of limestone that shows evidence of prolific life on one side and nothing on the other, Erwin points to the faint white line of ash between them and explains that this is the P–T boundary, when the vast majority of the world’s species were snuffed out. Erwin shrugs and says “Life here was good. Life here got really bad. It then took a long time for life to get better.”

Without us, the planet would revert to its timeless ways of spawning and destroying life. Without a sentient species to observe, the pace at which this happens becomes irrelevant. Without a sentient species to evaluate and judge, “biodiversity” and “beauty” become meaningless sounds.

Weisman has a lot of great material here. With a different presentation, it might have been made into a better book. Or, better yet, as a continuing series of essays in a magazine such as Scientific American. But as a coherent book, it just doesn’t work.

(Selected reading for Drinks and Dystopia (a post apocalyptic book club) for 6 December 2009.)
Profile Image for Glenn.
97 reviews14 followers
December 18, 2007
I came across this book on a jaunt around the web, and, I suspect like most people, thought “what an amazing idea!” The only question I had in hearing about it was whether the writing in the book would live up to its premise.

It does, effortlessly. There is real, unforced poetry in Alan's writing, lines like “Rills lined with yellow asters flow soundlessly across spongy, hummocked meadows, so rain-logged that streams appear to float,” and, in a wonderful description of a famous mountain, he unfurls the lines “an hour southeast of Nairobi, Kilimanjaro appears, its shrinking snowcap dripping butterscotch under the rising sun.” These evocative, writerly lines contrast beautifully with the “just-the-facts, ma'am” approach of so much of the book--where Alan, having spoken with experts in various fields, lays out simply how events will transpire once we are gone, the full impact of what he lays out before us amplified by being presenting so cleanly, with such clarity..

And he does something remarkable in this book, considering the subject matter. He gives the reader a vivid sense of wonder at the doings of the natural world, a palpable sense of awe at how our little detour on the course of history will be covered and gone, no matter what we wreak upon the planet. Well, not entirely covered....

Because there's also the horror at what we have done. At the poisons we have placed into the environment, seemingly forgetting that we are participants in the very environment we sicken, and at the short-sightedness of so much that goes into what we call “progress.” There are many moments in the book where a reader may need to close the cover, to gather themselves, in order to continue. For me, one of those moments was where the University of Plymouth marine biologist explained what he found while browsing in a pharmacy; for you there will surely be others. The fact is, there is much included in “The World Without Us” that goes far toward explaining how discussion provoked by this book will surely feel like it is concerning an eventuality not quite as far away as might feel comfortable.

This book asks, over and over again, literally and philosophically, what will we leave behind? When it no longer matters what happens to us because of extinction, what will endure? Alan quotes Doug Irwin, who says “Humans are going extinct eventually…but life will continue…I figure it's interesting to be here now; I'm not going to get all upset about it.” And perhaps in Irwin's matter of fact acceptance of simply “being here now” lies some salvation. Perhaps we, as a species, could recognize our fleeting time on this earth, and cherish both that short time and the place, and each, in our own small way, make the place one worth living in, and our effect on it worth celebrating beyond our stay.
Profile Image for Amy.
686 reviews145 followers
August 14, 2019
I caught an interview on NPR a few days ago with the author for The World Without Us when I was driving across town. After hearing the interview, I HAD TO go out that afternoon and buy the book. I've never had a work of non-fiction activate my imagination in so many ways: dense Hansel & Gretel forests, roaming megafauna, organisms that learned to digest organic matter over time, lost cities, underground caverns ... I absolutely love this book because it's so much more than post-apocalyptic speculation. There are so many things in the book that I'm learning that I didn't know before. For example, I didn't know that Thomas Jefferson and his deist gang didn't believe that animals could be extinct because they were a part of god's creation. I also didn't know that charcoal was formed from trees fallen back before the organisms responsible for the decomposition we know today developed the ability to digest them. Too, I had no idea that some seeds can lie dormant for 1000 years waiting for the right conditions to grow (such as fire). And I didn't know that the reason for the Great Plains in the U.S. was the burning done by native Americans years ago mainly for hunting purposes. I never knew of the 4% of once-occupied beach front Cyprus that has been cordoned off as a no man's land since 1972. I'd never heard of the underground network of rooms in Cappadocia, Turkey, capable of hiding and housing 30,000 in the case of attack. And I didn't know that there are so few untouched and nationally protected areas of forest left in the world. I guess there's a lot out there to learn. Maybe I should read non-fiction more often. This book is leaving me with so many tangents in my brain that I should probably go raid the county library sometime soon.
Profile Image for Sarah ~.
735 reviews806 followers
February 7, 2017
The World Without Us - Alan Weisman

ماذا لو انقرض البشر يومًا ما؟
كيف ستتعامل الطبيعة مع هذا؟ كيف ستعيش باقي المخلوقات في عالم يخلو من البشر ؟
ماذا سيبقى من البشر، ماذا سيبقى من حضارتهم، مدنهم وحياتهم اليومية؟
هذا جزء بسيط من الأسئلة التي يطرحها ويجيب عليها هذا الكتاب، وعلى ما يبدو أن مدننا ستندثر خلال 500 عام إذا كانت الجو معتدلًا والأمطار متوسطة وفي النهاية قد لا يتبقى سوى الصلب الخام وبعض الأطلال.

قد يكون الإنسان "الكائن الذكى والمهيمن على الكوكب" ولكنه ليس الأقوى بل هو ضعيف وإذا فكرنا قليلًا بكل نقاط ضعفه وهشاشته فإن احتمالات انقراضه ليست بتلك الإستحالة، وأيضًا فكرة أن ينقرض البشر (وحدهم) دون غيرهم من المخلوقات قد تكون مستبعده، لكنها ليسَت مستحيلة ..
فد يبدو من قراءة أولية للكتاب أن الطبيعة قد تبلي حسنًا من دوننا، ولكن بعد نظرة معمقة لن يكون هذا سهلًا بسبب ما سنتركه ورائنا أو تبعات ما سيحدث مثلًا بسبب عدم وجود أيادي بشرية لإطفاء الحرائق التي قد تندلع في أبار النفط ومحطات الوقود أو اختفاء البشر الذين كانوا يقومون بـ سقي النباتات واطعام الحيوانات الداجنة والتي لا تستطيع العيش لوحدها بعد الآن ، تلك الحيوانات والنباتات لن تنجو لوقت طويل بدون البشر، والتلوث سيفرض على الحيوانات وعلى الطبيعة القيام بتغييرات جذرية من أجل التكيف وهكذا لن يعود العالم كما كنّا نعرفه.

وإذا لم نهتم بالبيئة بشكل جدي وليس كشعارات رنانة كما يحدث، وحل مشاكل الاحتباس الحراري (وهي مشكلة كبيرة لا يعترف البعض حتى بحقيقة وجودها) ووقف الاساءة للبيئة بكل أشكالها، من رمي النفايات بدل تدويرها والاستهلاك المفرط للبلاستيك (خاصة بشكله الحالي) ووقف الصيد الجائر بكل أنواعه، وإذا لم يحدث كلّ هذا وفي المستقبل القريب إذا لم نقل بدءً من اليوم، فإن البشر ليسوا فقط من سيتعرضون للإنقراض بل الطبيعة أيضًا بكل تنوعها الحيوي وعلينا وبشكل سريع إيجاد مكان نخزن فيه ذاكرتنا ومعرفتنا حتى يبقى شيء منَ الجنس البشري غير الأكياس البلاستيكية والمواد المشّعة .

Profile Image for Jim.
1,168 reviews70 followers
December 12, 2020
I read this book some years ago ( it was published in 2007 ) and I reread it for a book discussion (on ZOOM). I still think that, as Bill McKibben says in a blurb on the cover, it's a great "thought experiment." What would the world be like if the human race suddenly disappeared? No surprise, almost every species of animal and plant would be better off. And, while it may take a million years, the Earth will heal and humanity will be forgotten...
If you're a house owner, it's no surprise that, if not stopped, plants will grow up all over the place, sometimes plants that you have no idea how they got to where they are. Especially in the last couple of years, I have let parts of the yard just get overgrown--just to see what will grow there! It's really amazing--the resilience of life on this planet. It wouldn't take much--a hole in the roof and/or a broken window for plants to begin growing inside a house. And, of course, animals would make themselves at home...Weisman shows how our modern houses will fall apart and great cities will crumble. In New York, the subways will get flooded and the city's foundations will erode. The Statue of Liberty will end up at the bottom of the harbor, its form remaining intact indefinitely, very likely encased in barnacles...
When I first read the book, I was perhaps most impressed by the chapter titled "Polymers are Forever." Plastics will never go away, but only become ground down into smaller and smaller particles. with all kinds of small sea creatures ingesting the plastic, creatures at the base of the food chain. Since the book's publication, we've all become more aware of the impact of plastic pollution. We know of the sea turtles choking on plastic bags, seabirds strangled by nylon fishing lines, even dead whales found with their bodies filled with plastic crap. We know of the growing Plastic Patch in the Pacific, which I think I first heard of from this book.
It was most fascinating for me to read about life returning to the irradiated dead zone of Chernobyl, in Ukraine. Weisman mentions that European bison have been introduced into the area. Now we see people have moved back into the area, as wildlife seems to thrive in the absence of humans in much of the Chernobyl area. It was also interesting to read about Kingman Reef, an extremely remote reef made of healthy coral and teeming with fish, especially sharks. With an absence of humans, corals stand a chance to stay healthy. Weisman writes about the killing of 100 million sharks a year for the shark fin industry (shark fins are used in soup in China). With humans gone from the planet, sharks would have the chance to rebound and continue to be an invaluable part of ocean ecosystems.
I'd like to think we've learned more about some of the environmental problems raised by Weisman in the book. It certainly seems that the new generation growing up in this century has a greater awareness of the environment than the generations before them. One can only hope...?
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
January 27, 2012
On the surface, this clever book describes what the world would be like if humans were to suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. Alan Weisman begins the book by describing the probable fate of man's buildings, structures--above and below ground, and cultural artifacts. For example, New York subways would completely flood within days. Interestingly, our longest-lasting legacy will probably be the radio signals transmitted into space.

But the majority of this engaging book is really about ecology. The earth's natural ecology would heal much of the damage wrought by humans. Many species of plants and animals may increase in numbers, while some--like cockroaches and rats--will decrease. But certain types of damage will be difficult to heal; the oceanic spread of plastics will take geologic time scales to disperse. And the scariest of all is the nuclear by-products, some of which will stick around even over geologic time scales.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,384 reviews1,650 followers
December 16, 2015
This book has been on my wishlist for quite a while, so when I was able to get the audio edition, I didn't hesitate to dive right in. I will say that this is not the best audiobook I've ever heard. The reader, Adam Grupper, was a bit stiff at times, but that's really my only complaint.

I think that this is one that I will have to read again myself at some point, because I feel like it's one that I would need to really take my time with, and absorb. This was so fascinating to me, and too often I would find myself getting caught up in imagining for myself what a scene of desolation or regrowth or whatever would look like, or pondering a point or thought, that I would miss some of what would come next and have to back up the audio and listen again.

This book kind of had me all over the map emotionwise. I kind of already think that people are jerks, and this book did nothing to dispel that notion. In fact, it illustrated ways that we're jerks that I'd never even thought of before. Like the fact that we produce plastic exfoliants: miniscule little plastic particles in soaps or bodywashes that scrub us for about 2.3 seconds and then get whisked down the drain to eventually end up in the belly of a fish who mistook them for another fish's eggs. Plastic particles that don't break down for thousands of years... And that's just one example.

Hunting is another. Now, I know all about hunting for food and population control. Food, fine, but I do have a problem with hunting for population control because we continue to encroach on land that was once the habitat of animals, and then when they have nowhere to go, when they are in our gardens trying to find food to survive, then there are too many, then they have to be thinned out. And hunting for sport or profit is a different matter entirely and honestly just makes me sick and angry and makes me want to hit things. OK people. It makes me want to hit people. With my car. Twice.

...Three times.

Anyway. Parts of this book were just so mind-blowing to me that I feel ashamed of humanity. The Global Warming debate aside, we have done so much harm to this planet it's insane, and it will likely never be the same again. Maybe that's the way of things, I mean the Earth is continually evolving and changing, but somehow I just can't see the amount of radioactive waste that we will be leaving, stuff that will last for millions of years, as in any way good or normal. I just could not wrap my mind around the staggering time that some of these substances will be around. And Weisman usually talked in terms of the half-life of the substance, which is the period of time it takes for a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. HALF. Millions and millions of years to decrease by HALF. And the average human lifespan is about 70 years.

Just the thought of the ways that what we leave behind will affect whatever is left after we're gone is heartbreaking, and I'm immensely glad that I will not be around to see it. I sincerely hope that people read this book, and think about it. We have an obligation to future generations to leave them an inhabitable world, and we're going well out of our way to do just the opposite. I'm not a religious person. I don't know if there is anything out there, but I can't help but wonder if any god could possibly forgive causing such lasting damage to the planet and everything that shares it with us...
Profile Image for Raluca.
157 reviews77 followers
June 21, 2019
Wow, wow, wow! Best non-fiction book I've read in a long time and my best 2019 book so far.

It's so difficult to define The world without us. Imagine if Thanos snapped all humankind out of existence. What happens to our cities and buildings? What of the plastic we've released into the ocean (which takes 10 000 years to decompose in the presence of oxygen, but would take 100 000 years to break on the oxygen-deprived ocean floor)? What of the oil refineries, the nuclear reactors, the radioactive dump sites? (Spoilers: without human maintenance, they're all going to explode and release their particles into the air, causing massive death everywhere). What of the pesticides and fertilizers we've released into the soil, which impede wild plant species from surviving? What of large man-created structures (dynamited diamond mines, Panama channel, Eurotunnel)? What of the invasive species of plants and animals we've introduced on continents where they didn't originally belong? What of critically endangered species? What of the billions of birds which die yearly on impact with human-created structures while flying? What of the few coral reefs remaining? What of another dominant species rising after our extinction?

There were times while reading this book when I almost wished humans disappeared. The author presented places such as the abandoned resort Varosha on Cyprus, the unoccupied militarized strip of land between North and South Korea and the restricted radioactive site of Cernobîl. Nature eventually reconquered these places (albeit animals at Cernobîl have a much shorter lifespan and reproduce much faster). The vision of New York without humans seems straight out of a beautiful post-apocalyptic future. There are plenty of parallels drawn with past human civilizations (like the Mayans who perished because of their own greed) or human tribes who invaded new lands and eliminated all megafauna. There are parallels drawn between the Anthropocene extinction and the biggest extinction ever - the Permian one, 252 million years ago - where 95% of species disappeared.

This book is a call to arms. This book is a dystopian thriller. This book is a speculative science-fiction piece. But most importantly, this book is reality. It's our immediate future. It was published in 2007, 12 years ago, so a lot of the info inside has gone worse. There were only 6.5 billion people back when this book was published. Now we're nearing 7.5 billion. There was 10 times more plastic than plankton back then (how much is now? The book tells how lots of hygiene products for exfoliating have micro-polymers in them, which are eaten by plankton and eventually end up in the entire food chain.) Puffins were found with 44 plastic pieces on average inside their stomach. How are we going to solve this?

The world without us will stay with me for a long, long time. I'm going to recommend it left and right. It's a good read for architects. It's a good read for geologists. It's a good read for nature lovers. But ultimately, it's a good read for every human being living on this planet. We only have one Earth, so we should be aware of our impact.
Profile Image for Ram.
665 reviews43 followers
November 7, 2017
Since reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ,
I have been playing with this idea in my head. What would we humans leave behind us after we are gone? What would inhabitants of earth in 500 million years find to indicate that a sentient, technological species inhabited this planet? The answer, according to that book was that the main, and probably only long lasting, detectable impact that humans will have on earth, is the species that went extinct due to humans.

This led to My second question at the time: Could it be possible that any of the previous large scale extinctions were due to a technological species that existed at the time.

This book gave me an answer concerning the long term impact of humans on earth. While we are (fully justified) concerned about the impact we have on the planet, it's weather, life and environment, after we are gone, everything will be erased, and nature will repossess the planet. The weather, the atmosphere, the diversity of species and much more, will return to a new balance that will be very close to what it was before humans. We would be less than a blip on the geological radar that would be very hard to detect.

What would happen to the Panama Canal if there were no humans to maintain it?
What would happen to all the subway tunnels when there won't be any humans to constantly pump water out of them?

What would happen to all our nuclear plants? Our toxic factories? Our cities? Our agricultural lands?

What man made buildings and monuments would last longest?

This was an interesting read, that on one hand emphasized all the damage we humans have done to the environment, and on the other hand, how quickly and with what power, nature will repossess areas where humans leave.

Profile Image for John Wiswell.
Author 41 books429 followers
July 4, 2010
If you’ve never read ecology before, or never met an environmentalist, or never seen any of the umpteen television programs this book inspired, then World Without Us will seem earthshaking. Weisman dispels people from the earth and asks what things would be like without us. How long would our buildings remain? The chemicals we left in the water? The other species that we’ve controlled?

But if you live in a country with internet access to read this review, then you probably know the answers. We’ve hurt things but the world would still go on and most of the stuff we’ve made would fall apart a little while later. We’re doing amazing harm to the environment and yet we’re pretty erasable. When you realize the premise is an excuse to complain about the present state of the world, the book loses some of its charm.

Despite the title, the premise and the opening of the book, a striking amount of it is not about what would happen to the world if humans died off or disappeared. Most of the first hundred pages are either speculation about where we came from or complaints against humans. We’ve mistreated each other, our expansion hurt local wildlife, our zoos hinder their life patterns and our attempts at conservation stifle nature. Misanthropy is thick throughout: it’s clear Weisman wrote it out of an extremist ecologist’s disdain for how we’ve behaved to each other and the rest of nature.

In this zeal he commits a popular fallacy exposed in lines like, “In the absence of humans, it filled with animals.” Humans are animals, but Weisman is absorbed in the fallacy that we’re different and divided from the rest of nature. We’re often a destructive part warranting his displeasure, but we are not in any way above or outside of nature. Sometimes we even try to fix what we do wrong. He plays just close enough to his “world without us” gimmick that that he can sniff at existing solutions like conservationism while providing no new answers of his own because, remember, the book’s about us all dying. But his best offerings are an overview of a group for voluntary human extinction and a global one-child policy, the former not directly endorsed, and the latter both grossly unpragmatic and a measure that would not reverse most of the longterm damage Weisman describes. It winds up feeling like he's not only lecturing, but cheating. That is particularly disappointing after seeing him do a talk, where he was much more open-minded and gracious.

The book seems the result of two strong possibilities. One is that Weisman, who had published three books before and had industry contacts, pitched a neat idea, got to writing and found he didn’t have the material for a compelling full book, and so fluffed it out with environmentalism. Plenty of shocking pop-science books do this.

The other possibility is the suspicion that we’ve been hoodwinked, given a shocking premise to draw us in only so he can evangelize at us. We’re unhappy when real evangelists do this and should be no more tolerant of Weisman, even if we are on his pro-environmental side. It’s cloying because we should be on his side. His concerns about oil, plastics and radiation are valid. By trumpeting his cause while hiding from difficult decisions behind his book's gimmick, he misses the mark.

I’ve read national reviews claiming this book would change the world if everybody read it. I think the world would do better by starting with Douglas Adams’s Last Chance to See or Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. Both of those are far more levelheaded approaches to environmental thought, with considerably greater compassion for their fellow humans, and in Gore’s case, considerably greater insight into why people mess things up so badly.
Profile Image for Ahmed.
149 reviews63 followers
October 25, 2015
هل تخيلت يوما العالم من دون دوننا؟
يساعدك هذا الكتاب علي تخيل ذلك بصورة علمية؟
هل تستطيع الطبيعة القيام بعملية استشفاء مما اصابها علي يد الانسان؟
هل كل ما خلفه الانسان ورائه قابل للزوال؟
للأسف بعض مخلفات الانسان قد تحتاج لعشرات الالاف من السنين وربما مئات الالاف لتتخلص منها الطبيعة فهي كما قال الكاتب وجدت لتبقي.
الكتاب عبارة عن رحلة في انحاء العالم لاستكشاف مصير الارض بعد رحيل البشر،من غابات اوروبا الي نيويورك الي صحراء افريقيا.
ما الذي سيحدث للمدينة بأبنيتها المرتفعة والعملاقة؟
ما الذي سيحذث لمنازلنا وكيف ستقضي الطبيعة عليها؟
الغابات التي انكمشت هل ستعود وتتمدد من جديد؟
الطيور والحيوانات التي في طريقها للإنقراض هل ستجد الحل في رحيل البشر؟
لكم من الوقت يستطيع الهرم الاكبر في مصر الصمود؟
عشرات التساؤلات التي يجيب عنها الكتاب بالتفصيل.
الكتاب رائع وممتع رغم كثر ة المعلومات والتفاصبل العلمية وما يصاحبها احيانا من ملل إلا اني استمتعت بقرائته.
Profile Image for Berlioz.
576 reviews27 followers
January 26, 2023
Weisman doesn't talk about the fate of the oak trees in Central Park, but about the fate of a bolt that holds a picture frame in your house, of a manhole, or of a pedestrian bridge. This is a mind gripping work about the fate, at most, of the inanimate world after people have gone extinct.

What will happen to power plants if they are not looked after by people? How long will fuel pressure be kept in the pipes underground? How long will it take a plastic cup that you threw past a trashcan to self-destruct?

This book is filled with facts about things that you would normally never think of! It is about how quickly our planet will return to normal, how quickly will it erase the memory of people that once resided it.
Profile Image for Lena.
1,152 reviews254 followers
March 25, 2019
“Humans perpetrated the extinctions that killed off three-fourths of America’s late Pleistocene megafauna, a menagerie far richer than Africa’s today.”

Humans, even allegedly environmentally harmonic native humans, are a plague on the world.

The world without us will recover the eden it once was in as quickly as two hundred years. But... it will have to adapt to our long lasting mistakes.

Plastic. Nuclear waste. CFCs.

There was beautiful adventurous imagery and true horror.

And stubborn hope:

“Since the 1990s, the Netherlands has not only offered incentives that practically equate organic farming with patriotism, but has also struggled to convince its EU partners that everything applied to the land ends up in the sea anyway.”

Weisman’s 2005 article Earth Without People, and this book, were likely the inspiration for Life After People, the two-hour special documentary that had an audience of 5.4 million viewers and was the most watched program ever on the History Channel.

Life After People: https://youtu.be/GyEUyqfrScU
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