Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us asks a simple question and then answers it at great length. “What would happen if the human race suddenly vanished?” As far as the apocalypse goes, zombie outbreak is in vogue as the world-ender of choice, but Weisman doesn’t focus on how the human race disappears: only what happens after they’re gone.
It’s a haunting book. Try to picture the entire world, completely devoid of human presence. The buildings and roads remain. The infrastructures of cities and nations are unchanged, intially–there’s just nobody around.
But the book goes beyond picturing it. In exhaustive scientific detail the author describes what would happen to the New York metro station as the subways filled with water. Or how it would take for Lexington Avenue to cave in and become a river. How do various metals erode? At which rate? Which buildings would last the longest? What would happen in the forests? How would the absence of people treat different countries?
And could human life ever return? Would evolution bring us back around again? There are more big questions here, such as “Are we actually doomed to extinction?” “Are we too smart to survive?” and “Would we deserve it?”
But none of those were the point of this beautifully written work for me. I just loved the experience of reading it. The World Without Us is a haunting piece of writing and will appeal to anyone who loves apocalyptic scenarios, science, geology, or who wonders about just how badly we could screw things up. Highly recommended.
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