three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Alan Weisman
user_rating: 
0

A-The World Without UsIt is a simple, provocative question: What will become of human works if we suddenly disappeared from the planet? For answers, Alan Weisman journeys around the globe—from the Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea to the site of the Chernobyl catastrophe, places where nature, in the absence of humans, has rebounded. What he discovers is both heartening and horrifying: with people gone, Manhattan’s subways will flood within days and collapse some 20 years later, but the world’s fisheries will recover quickly, perhaps in as short as a year. Ceramic and bronze will remain intact for centuries to come, but our most enduring legacy will likely be the tons of plastic produced.
Thomas Dunne Books. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0312347294

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"I relished The World Without Us for its very audacity in jettisoning the anthropomorphic point-of-view. Weisman doesn’t tarry long considering what might wipe us out yet leave the rest of the biosphere pulsing. A microbial scourge? The rapture?" Karen R. Long

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"The World Without Us gradually reveals itself to be one of the most satisfying environmental books of recent memory, one devoid of self-righteousness, alarmism or tiresome doomsaying. No weary jeremiad this, it is instead the very best kind of popular science book." Chauncey Mabe

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The more elaborately Mr. Weisman paints a worst possible outcome, the better he has made his case. And the more triumphant he sounds." Janet Maslin

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"His book reads like a rarefied laboratory experiment whose results have no relevance. Worse, it is an environmentalist’s nightmare, possibly fueling the cheap shots taken at the green movement in this country and around the world in recent years by critics who say environmentalists care more about nature than people." Robert Braile

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Ultimately, The World Without Us is trivia masquerading as wisdom. By journeying around the world to interview biologists and paleontologists, engineers and curators, Zápara elders and Masai ecoguides, Weisman has done a remarkably thorough job of answering a question that doesn’t particularly matter." Michael Grunwald

Critical Summary

Perhaps operating on the assumption that he won’t be around, Alan Weisman gets a head start on measuring the global human footprint. Although he doesn’t intend The World Without Us to be an explicitly environmental work, the specter of global warming hangs over the book like a heavy toxic cloud. Some reviewers wonder whether all the doom and gloom is necessary: Why investigate a question that skirts the underlying cause of the problem? That said, Weisman, a professor at the University of Arizona, has done his research and collected a wide range of data to support his findings, which he delivers in graceful, entertaining prose. We think Michael Grunwald’s review in the Washington Post sums it up nicely: sure the book’s trivia. Quite a few of us like that.