Book Review - The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Just for kicks, let's say that everyone on the planet just disappeared. No, this isn't a review of I Am Legend. It's the premise of the book The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Weisman looks at how the planet would start reclaiming its land from the imprint of man. It's a bit uneven and meandering at times, but it does lead to some interesting conjecture...
- Part 1: A Lingering Scent of Eden; Unbuilding Our Home; The City Without Us; The World Just Before Us; The Lost Menagerie; The African Paradox
- Part 2: What Falls Apart; What Lasts; Polymers Are Forever; The Petro Patch; The World Without Farms
- Part 3: The Fate of Ancient and Modern Wonders of the World; The World Without War; Hot Legacy; Our Geologic Record
- Part 4: Where Do We Go from Here?; Art Beyond Us; The Sea Cradle
- Coda: Our Earth, Our Souls
- Acknowledgments; Select Bibliography; Index
Fortunately, this wasn't a "global warming is killing us" diatribe. If it had been, it's likely I wouldn't have picked it up. Instead, it's more of a look at how nature's systems would take over and interact with an abandoned infrastructure. For starters, you're treated to a slow-motion destruction of your humble abode. Water seeps in around nails and shingles loosen up. Insects and rodents start taking up residence and add to the decay. Load-bearing walls weaken and collapse, leaving piles of rubble that slowly crumble and return to the soil of the foundation. Given a century or so of complete neglect, nature would reclaim much of what we built. Particleboard won't stand up like rock walls of the previous millennium. I also found the chapters on our "wonders" quite eye-opening. Structures like the Panama Canal would very quickly be overrun by the surrounding forests. The Chunnel could be a link allowing species to migrate for some period of time between England and France. Granted, it's speculation, but interesting nonetheless.
Some of the material didn't seem to flow as well. There was a fair amount of discussion as to the hows and whys behind the disappearances of large land mammals that seemed to exist before the advent of man. Giant sloths and other strange creatures didn't fare well when stacked up against humans. Those chapters seemed to be a strange mix between looking back at what happened and what might happen once we leave. It probably was put in to help support arguments surrounding how species adapt and survive. But it seemed to break the flow of the main narrative... I found myself starting to wander a bit when those chapters got a bit too long.
If you've walked through ghost towns or seen pictures of an abandoned Chernobyl, this book will add much to your understanding of what happens when we're not around to take care of our "stuff".