Thursday, November 6, 2014

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman

The World Without UsThe World Without Us by Alan Weisman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What if humans no longer existed on Earth? If we evolved up to this point, and then suddenly were gone? How would different species fare? Which would prosper and which would die? What would happen to our feats of engineering, our art, our architecture? Our houses? Our things?

Weisman answers all these questions and more from his scientific perch, from which he often moves to take us to Pacific atolls encrusted with plastic, to Chernobyl where wildlife, however mutated, has reclaimed the area; to a primeval forest preserved for centuries by Polish royalty, to bridges, buildings, graveyards, nuclear waste sites, ancient Egypt and Peru, the bottom of the oceans and the outer reaches of interstellar space.

We humans have left a massive footprint on our own planet and have managed to beam something of ourselves out into the cosmos as well, but the final word is that we are not indelible, and that our mark will, with time, fade into obscurity for other species to discover and ponder. This isn't a plea for conservation or ecological measures, though the case is made through simple factual presentation; one leaves this book behind pondering how our waste-creating species turns such a blind eye to the tremendous damage we do. All of it is reversible, though-- just not with us around.

Humans add one million newborns to our numbers on Earth every four days. Every four days. The planet continues to accommodate us as best it can, but one wonders about a tipping point. Your interests in science, travel, history, and the human condition all converge here for a very thought-provoking, sobering, and anything but nihilistic read.

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