“The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman (Thomas Dunne, 2007)

The World Without Us

Alan Weisman’s introspective book, The World Without Us, which became a bestseller, seems clear when one sees and reads what’s on the front cover.  Yes, it’s a book about the concept of what the world would be like if humanity suddenly disappeared, and how long it would take to recover from the severe imprint we’ve made upon it.  But the book is also much more, as Weisman analyzes why we have had this effect on the planet, and to what extent it has reached.

After a prelude to why Weisman wanted to write this book, the first chapter discusses Weisman’s journey to the Puszcza Białowieska, a primeval forest located deep within Poland, where life has remained the same for millennia.  It is a powerful example of the way the world once was, when humanity hadn’t exacted its harsh footprint upon it.  It serves as an introductory signal to the message Weisman is broadcasting in The World Without Us.

The various TV documentaries that were made after the success of this book reveal the “world without us” in chronological order, advancing through years, decades and centuries to show the changes, and in this way the subject matter is dramatic and simplified.  But the truth is far more complicated, which explains why this book is over three hundred pages long, and not less than fifty.  Weisman tells his story, travelling to many places around the world, where he starts with its history and the toll people have had upon it, why it has happened that way, and how this imprint is getting worse.  Then humanity miraculously disappears, and Weisman begins the other part of this tale after this unique event, and how it will eventually return back to its once pristine form.

Weisman also travels to other locations around that world that have seen little human impression, such as Kingman Reef and the Palmyra Atoll, as well as looking in depth at the Chernobyl site and how nature and wildlife have claimed it back,as well as some of its former inhabitants returning to their former homes.  He discusses the Mayan civilization, going into detail with its history and dispelling the common misconceptions as to why it collapsed, explaining the more likely reasons.  He performs a detailed study on New York City, revealing everything the city government has to do keep nature at bay from sinking its biological claws into this artificial settlement.  Then humanity disappears again and Weisman waxes on nature’s reclamation of this place, as it once was in the early days of the Dutch colony.

Towards the end, Weisman comes back to his message, being more overt about it as he wonders on where the future might be headed, as humanity continues to cut away at this planet, widening and worsening a wound that may one day be unable to heal.  He talks of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, and what effect population limitation would have, if say families would limit themselves to just one child.  With the hard fact that a million people are born every four days, it’s a sobering contemplation, as readers now know what the world would do without us, but more important readers get to comprehend what is happening to the world right now with us on it.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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