Book Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007)

February 27th, 2008 9:12 am by Kelly Garbato

Another review, this time of some leisure reading gifted to me for FSMas by my Mom: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007). Amazon review here, LT review here.

Enjoy!

The World Without Us

Tomorrow is a beautiful day.

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Suppose that the worst has happened. Human extinction is a fait accompli. Not by a nuclear calamity, asteroid collision, or anything ruinous enough to also wipe out most everything else, leaving whatever remained in some radically altered, reduced state. Not by some grim eco-scenario in which we agonizingly fade, dragging many more species with us in the process. Instead, picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

This is author Alan Weisman’s “creative experiment” – imagine, if you will, THE WORLD WITHOUT US. Which species will die off, and which will survive and even thrive in our absence? Would endangered species ever be able to bounce back? What of our primate cousins – would another great ape ever again venture from her jungle habitat and evolve into a species similar to homo sapiens? How long will it take nature to reclaim our homes and office buildings, streets and subways, cities and ecosystems? What of our knowledge, art, and technology? Will anything human remain?

Weisman’s answers are both encouraging and depressing. Environmentalists – indeed, any person modicum of decency – will be happy to know that much of what we’ve done to the Earth, can be quickly undone. With the exception of those species we’ve already managed to eradicate, many endangered and threatened animal species do stand a fighting chance in a world without us. Many of our “greatest accomplishments,” from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hoover Dam, will eventually crumble without humans around to maintain them. Forests, grasslands, and jungles will recover lost ground, though native species will be forced into competition with exotic ones introduced by humans. Global warming will slow and the ozone layer will regain molecular equilibrium. Our most enduring legacies will be our most unnatural creations: nuclear waste, plastics, and petrochemicals. Hopefully a world without us will evolve microbes to digest the more than one billion pounds of plastic we’ve dumped into the environment since the late ‘50s.

While Weisman’s optimism for Gaia’s future is encouraging, THE WORLD WITHOUT US also illustrates, to a depressing degree, the sheer insignificance of the human race. Even to this childfree atheist and supporter of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT), the prospect of a world without humans – including any indication that we ever even existed – is a humbling prospect. Without us, much of our knowledge will be lost to the earth. Then again, considering the ways in which we misused it, maybe this is not altogether a bad thing.

Whether it happens tomorrow or in 900 million years – when our Sun enters a red giant phase and begins to expand and contract, thus heating the Earth and evaporating our surface water – we will disappear. In this regard, we’re no better than the great megafauna of the Holocene epoch – or the lowly cockroaches and rodents that congregate in our fragile urban areas. It’s not a question of if we will vanish, but when; perhaps we should make our exit a graceful one, taking no more of our fellow earthlings to the grave than we already have.

May we live long and die out.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

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2 Responses to “Book Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007)”

  1. The History Channel makes the case for VHEMT. » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] Having just received Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us for FSMas, I was super-psyched about the documentary (which aired as part of a block of similar programming, such as Last Days on Earth) – and Life After People did not disappoint. The graphics were amazing, and the time projections – from 1 to 10 days after our disappearance, to 1 to 10,000 years post-h. sapiens – were quite impressive. Perhaps most importantly, and much like The World Without Us, Life After People gave me great hope for the future – or rather, for a future without us. Many of humanity’s so-called “greatest achievements” will prove a small match for the forces of nature, particularly once we’re no longer around to beat nature back. Those species which we haven’t yet driven to extinction will be given a second chance, and the earth will regenerate, reclaiming the land and resources we’ve stolen from it. […]

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